Mooney Lab

309 Bryan Research

Richard D. Mooney, PhD, PI

George Barth Geller Professor of Neurobiology
Director of Graduate Studies and Faculty,
Neurobiology Training Program
Voice: 919-684-5025
FAX: 919-681-1819

301C Bryan Research Building
311 Research Drive
Durham, NC 27710-4432

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We study the neurobiology of hearing and communication, with special emphasis on the neural mechanisms of vocal learning, production and perception. Our approaches include in vivo multi photon imaging of neurons, optogenetics, and intracellular and extracellular recordings from freely behaving songbirds and mice.

Our research aims to identify the neural substrates for 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 audition and vocalization in mice. Although mice do not appear to be vocal learners, they do vocalize and produce other sounds as a consequence of their movements.  A major focus of our current research is to understand how vocal motor and auditory regions of the brain interact during vocalizations and other sound-producing behaviors to help the organism distinguish self-generated sounds from other sounds in the environment. We are using both wild type and genetically modified mice to identify the central neural mechanisms that underlie this form of sensorimotor integration.

We use a wide range of techniques in our research, including in vivo multiphoton neuronal imaging, chronic recording of neural activity in freely behaving animals, in vivo and in vitro intracellular recordings from identified neurons, and manipulation of neuronal activity using either electrical microstimulation, focal cooling or optogenetic methods. Our group also has extensive experience with viral transgenic methods and with behavioral analysis, especially in quantifying acoustic features of vocalizations. Together, these methods provide a broad technical approach to understanding how the brain harnesses sensory information to adaptively modify behavior.

Recent Posts

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Wednesday, November 17, 2021 - 09:00
103 Bryan
Samuel Brudner

Samuel Brudner, Neurobiology Ph.D. candidate in the Mooney Lab, will defend his thesis "Data-Driven Analysis of Zebra Finch Song Copying And Learning" live in 103 Bryan on Wednesday, Nov. 17 at 9:00am.

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Friday, October 22, 2021
By Karl Leif Bates

Just as a professional athlete or concert pianist practices daily to hone and refine their physical movements for the best possible performance when it really counts, male zebra finches noodle around and sing slight variations of their courtship c

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021 - 14:00
Valerie Michael

Valerie Michael, a Neurobiology Ph.D.

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Thursday, February 18, 2021 - 09:30
Jonnathan Singh Alvarado

Jonnathan Singh Alvarado (Mooney Lab) will present his dissertation seminar Neural dynamics underlying birdsong practice and performance