Subglottal pressure, tracheal airflow, and intrinsic laryngeal muscle activity during rat ultrasound vocalization

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Nov;106(5):2580-92. doi: 10.1152/jn.00478.2011. Epub 2011 Aug 10.


Vocal production requires complex planning and coordination of respiratory, laryngeal, and vocal tract movements, which are incompletely understood in most mammals. Rats produce a variety of whistles in the ultrasonic range that are of communicative relevance and of importance as a model system, but the sources of acoustic variability were mostly unknown. The goal was to identify sources of fundamental frequency variability. Subglottal pressure, tracheal airflow, and electromyographic (EMG) data from two intrinsic laryngeal muscles were measured during 22-kHz and 50-kHz call production in awake, spontaneously behaving adult male rats. During ultrasound vocalization, subglottal pressure ranged between 0.8 and 1.9 kPa. Pressure differences between call types were not significant. The relation between fundamental frequency and subglottal pressure within call types was inconsistent. Experimental manipulations of subglottal pressure had only small effects on fundamental frequency. Tracheal airflow patterns were also inconsistently associated with frequency. Pressure and flow seem to play a small role in regulation of fundamental frequency. Muscle activity, however, is precisely regulated and very sensitive to alterations, presumably because of effects on resonance properties in the vocal tract. EMG activity of cricothyroid and thyroarytenoid muscle was tonic in calls with slow or no fundamental frequency modulations, like 22-kHz and flat 50-kHz calls. Both muscles showed brief high-amplitude, alternating bursts at rates up to 150 Hz during production of frequency-modulated 50-kHz calls. A differentiated and fine regulation of intrinsic laryngeal muscles is critical for normal ultrasound vocalization. Many features of the laryngeal muscle activation pattern during ultrasound vocalization in rats are shared with other mammals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glottis / physiology*
  • Helium / pharmacology
  • Laryngeal Muscles / physiology*
  • Larynx / physiology*
  • Male
  • Oxygen / pharmacology
  • Pressure
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Trachea / physiology*
  • Ultrasonics
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Helium
  • heliox
  • Oxygen