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Richard Mooney

George Barth Geller Professor
Research Interest: 
Developmental biology
Research Summary: 
How experience affects brain and behavior.
Research Description: 

Our research aims to identify the neural substrates for vocal learning and vocal communication. We use both songbird and rodents to achieve these aims. Songbirds are one of the few non-human animals that learn to vocalize and serve as the preeminent model in which to identify neural mechanisms for vocal learning. The songbird is ideal for this purpose because of its well-described capacity to vocally imitate the songs of other birds, and because its brain has a constellation of discrete, interconnected brain regions (i.e., song control nuclei, referred to collectively as the song system) that function in the patterning, perception, learning and maintenance of song. There are two major foci to our songbird studies: elucidating how and where auditory and motor information about learned vocalizations is encoded in the brain; identifying the mechanisms via which auditory experience modifies vocal output, as occurs during sensitive periods for vocal learning. We also study the neurobiology of vocal communication in mice. Although mice do not appear to be vocal learners, they do vocalize extensively to communicate. A major focus of our current research is to understand how vocal premotor and auditory areas interact during self-generated vocalizations and whether they interact when the individual listens to the vocalizations of others. We are using both wild type and genetically modified mice to identify the central neural mechanisms that underlie this form of sensorimotor integration.

Manipulation of a central auditory representation shapes learned vocal output.
Lei H, Mooney R.
Neuron. 2010. 65:122-34.

Rapid spine stabilization and synaptic enhancement at the onset of behavioural learning.
Roberts TF, Tschida KA, Klein ME, Mooney R.
Nature. 2010. 463:948-52.

Neural mechanisms for learned birdsong.
Mooney R.
Learn Mem. 2009. 16:655-69.

Neural correlates of categorical perception in learned vocal communication.
Prather JF, Nowicki S, Anderson RC, Peters S, Mooney R.
Nat Neurosci. 2009. 12:221-8.

Precise auditory-vocal mirroring in neurons for learned vocal communication.
Prather JF, Peters S, Nowicki S, Mooney R.
Nature. 2008. 451:305-10.