‘Singing’ rats show hope for older humans with age-related voice problems

‘Singing’ rats show hope for older humans with age-related voice problems

New research from speech and hearing science professors shows training rats to “sing” could provide a model for voice therapy that will, in turn, help aging humans with vocal problems.

via ScienceDaily: Top Science News:

June 24, 2013 — A new study shows that the vocal training of older rats reduces some of the voice problems related to their aging, such as the loss of vocal intensity that accompanies changes in the muscles of the larynx. This is an animal model of a vocal pathology that many humans face as they age. The researchers hope that in the future, voice therapy in aging humans will help improve their quality of life.The research appears in The Journals of Gerontology.University of Illinois speech and hearing science professor Aaron Johnson, who led the new study along with his colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, said that aging can cause the muscles of the larynx, the organ that contains the vocal folds, to atrophy. This condition, called presbyphonia, may be treatable with vocal training, he said.Johnson said in a healthy, young larynx the vocal folds completely close and open during vibration. This creates little puffs of air we hear as sound. In people with presbyphonia, however, the atrophied vocal folds do not close properly, resulting in a gap during vocal fold vibration.Degradation of the neuromuscular junction, or the interface between the nerve that signals the vocal muscle to work and the muscle itself, also contributes to the symptoms of presbyphonia, Johnson said. In a healthy human, when the signal reaches the neuromuscular junction, it triggers a release of chemicals that signal the muscle to contract. But an age-related decline in the neuromuscular junction can cause weakness and fatigue in the muscle, and may result in a person having a breathy or weak voice and to become fatigued as a result of the extra effort needed to communicate.Surgery and injections may help correct the gap between the vocal folds seen in presbyphonia, but these invasive procedures are often not viable in the elderly population, Johnson said.His previous experience working with the elderly as a former classical singer and voice teacher propelled Johnson to “become interested in what we can do as we get older to keep our voices healthy and strong.””We know exercise strengthens the limb musculature, but we wanted to know if vocal exercise can strengthen the muscles of the voice,” Johnson said.To find out if vocal training could have an effect on the strength and physiology of the vocal muscles in humans, Johnson turned to a rat model. Rats make ultrasonic vocalizations that are above the range of human hearing, but special recording equipment and a computer that lowers the frequency of the rat calls allows humans to perceive them. (They sound a bit like bird calls).Because rats and humans utilize similar neuromuscular mechanisms to vocalize, the rats make ideal subjects for the study of human vocal characteristics, Johnson said.Both the treatment and control groups contained old and young male rats. …

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ScienceDaily: Top Science News

‘Singing’ rats show hope for older humans with age-related voice problems

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