CE20 - Biologie des animaux, des organismes photosynthétiques et des microorganismes

Functional Neuroimaging of the Vocalisation Perception Mechanisms of Sheep – SheepVoicefMRI

Submission summary

As a gregarious species, sheep use olfactory, visual and auditory information during intra- and inter-species social interactions, which are critical for survival. The neural substrates of sheep olfactory and visual social interaction have been studied by cellular or electrophysiological approaches. Yet, despite the known behavioural importance of vocalizations for sheep social interaction, their auditory system remains scientifically unexplored. The SheepVoicefMRI project will use in vivo structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to discover the auditory network of the sheep brain, its functional organisation and its social information-processing mechanisms. To this aim, the project will consist of four tasks to be completed over 36 months.

The first task will be to localize and characterize, for the first time, the primary region of the sheep brain responsible for processing auditory stimulation. The second task will be to investigate whether, similar to humans, non-human primates and dogs, the sheep brain has specialized regions that focus on processing sheep vocalizations over all other sounds. The third task will be to map the structural and functional connectivity of these specialized regions, both between them and with other parts of the sheep brain. The fourth task aims to develop a training protocol that will enable sheep to participate, without anaesthesia or restraint, in functional MRI experiments.

The fundamental knowledge delivered by this project about the auditory perceptual and cognitive capacities of sheep will also contribute to understanding their welfare needs, determined by both physical and mental factors under current definitions of animal welfare. By establishing cognitive neuroimaging techniques capable of investigating the perceptual and cognitive capacities of livestock, SheepVoicefMRI will help to release the untapped potential of cognitive neuroscience to infer and investigate the mental lives of animals. In addition, this work will inform and facilitate translational research involving large animal, gyrencephalic models of both the healthy and diseased human brain. The project’s impact will be enhanced by its implementing of the principles of Open Science: all scientific output (protocols, code, stimuli, data, publications, etc.) will be made publicly and freely available.

The project’s host institution is one of only a few in the world with direct access to an MRI facility capable of imaging livestock, that is also in the immediate vicinity of an experimental farm. The principle investigator (PI) was recruited into an experienced neuroethology team within this rare environment to apply his cognitive neuroscience expertise to cultivate the emerging field of livestock neuroimaging. Together they form a unique research group capable of achieving the ambitious objectives of SheepVoicefMRI. Thus, in line with the aims of the ANR-JCJC funding program, leading the SheepVoicefMRI project will benefit the PI’s career by enabling them to advance their research objectives, moving forward their aim to lead a research team and providing further legitimacy to future applications for international research funding.

Project coordination

Scott Love (Physiologie de la reproduction et des comportements)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


PRC Physiologie de la reproduction et des comportements

Help of the ANR 199,938 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2021 - 36 Months

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