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Bat brains offer clues as to how we focus on some sounds and not others
Date:11/14/2010

San Diego - How do you know what to listen to? In the middle of a noisy party, how does a mother suddenly focus on a child's cry, even if it isn't her own?

Bridget Queenan, a doctoral candidate in neuroscience at Georgetown University Medical Center is turning to mustached bats to help her solve this puzzle.

At the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in San Diego, Queenan will report that she has found neurons in the brains of bats that seem to "shush" other neurons when relevant communications sounds come in a process she suggests may be working in humans as well.

In her investigations, she has also found that "some neurons seemed to know to yell louder to report communication sounds over the presence of background noise."

"So we can now start to piece together how the cells in your brain are able to deal with the complex sensory environment we live in," Queenan added.

To understand auditory brain function, bats are especially interesting animals to study because they process sound through echolocation, which is a kind of biological sonar. Bats call out and then listen to their own echoes produced when those calls bounce off nearby objects. Bats use these echoes to navigate and to hunt.

Not only do the brains of bats have to process a constant stream of pulses and echoes, they have to simultaneously process the bats' social communication, Queenan says.

"What we are trying to figure out is how a bat can fly around echolocating - screeching and listening to its own individual sounds bouncing back - amidst a whole colony of hundreds of other echolocating bats and possibly hear another bat saying 'watch out! Bats actually do make these cautious calls quite a bit," she says. "In fact, bats have a whole host of communication sounds: angry sounds, warning sounds, and sounds that says 'please don't hurt me."

The auditory processing area in bats' brains is larger than other cente
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Contact: Karen Mallet
km463@georgetown.edu
215-514-9751
Georgetown University Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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