Sound affects embryo development

Embryos of many species use sound to prepare for the outside world

Date: May 26, 2021Source: Cell Press Summary :It’s well known that reptiles depend on temperature cues while in the egg to determine a hatchling’s sex. Now, researchers say that embryos of many different animal species also rely on acoustic signals in important ways. They call this phenomenon ‘acoustic developmental programming. ‘Share:   

It’s well known that reptiles depend on temperature cues while in the egg to determine a hatchling’s sex. Now, researchers writing in the journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution on May 26 say that embryos of many different animal species also rely on acoustic signals in important ways. They call this phenomenon “acoustic developmental programming.”

“Acoustic developmental programming occurs when a sound informs embryos about the environment they’ll encounter postnatally and changes their development to better suit this environment,” said Mylene Mariette (@MyleneMariette) of Deakin University in Australia.

Because this is a newly discovered phenomenon, the evidence is just beginning to accumulate. And, yet, it seems to be rather widespread among animals.

“We have found evidence of this happening in birds, where parental calls can warn embryos about heatwaves or predators,” Mariette says. “Before that, there was also evidence that cricket nymphs use male songs to predict the level of competition for mates. However, what is most striking from the evidence we’ve gathered is how common it is for embryos across species to rely on sound information.

“For example,” she adds, “across all animal groups that lay eggs, such as insects, frogs, reptiles and birds, embryos use sound or vibration to know when the best time is to hatch. This suggests that acoustic developmental programming is likely to happen in many animal species and for a whole range of conditions. But, until recently, we did not know it was happening.”

Mariette got interested in acoustic developmental programming while studying how zebra finch parents communicate with each other through calls to coordinate parental care duties. “I noticed that when a parent was alone incubating, it would sometimes produce a strange high-pitched call,” she says.

She wondered if those calls had further implications for the developing embryos. To find out, she captured many audio recordings in nests and played them to eggs incubated artificially in the lab. It turned out that the finch parents only produced that particular call when it was very hot out. Upon hearing it from inside the egg, nestlings adjusted their development to prepare for the heat.

“I became very curious about how just hearing a sound before hatching could alter development,” Mariette says.

She started searching for evidence in the literature of embryos using sound in other animals. She also dug into the neurobiology to try and understand how it could happen. So far, it’s not clear exactly how it works, but the new report identifies some likely mechanisms.

“In crickets, when developing nymphs hear many sexy songs, female develop quickly to make the most of the opportunity, whereas males delay metamorphosis to grow bigger and invest more in reproduction,” Mariette says. “In zebra finches, embryos exposed to parental heat calls grow less to reduce the physiological damage of heat exposure, which then allows them to produce more babies at adulthood. But embryos cannot decide to change their development, it just happens.

“This is because sound directly impacts behavior and physiology, without any conscious processing,” she continues. “This is why, for example, music triggers spontaneous emotions of sadness or happiness, without us having to remember which movie that soundtrack came from, or in fact without us even noticing our reaction to the music. It seems to occur on its own, because there are direct connections in the brain between the auditory pathway and the areas that control emotion, reflex learning, and hormone production, so the higher cortical areas do not need to decode the information. Sound experienced early in life could trigger the same spontaneous reactions and, in fact, have long-lasting effects, because this is when the brain is developing, and consolidating connections. For the same reason, the downstream effects on physiology and then morphology can persist for life.”

The bottom line for now is that sound has a much more profound impact on development than had been realized. Mariette suggest that it may be important to preserve natural soundscapes that may be crucial for animal adaptation, particularly in fast-changing environments.

Mariette’s lab continues to study the physiological traits in zebra finches that may be affected by heat-calls. “It is quite amazing that sound alone can prepare babies for heat, particularly given the alarming rate of climate change,” she says.

This work was supported by ARC grants. Make a difference: sponsored opportunity

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Materials provided by Cell PressNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Mylene M. Mariette, David F. Clayton, Katherine L. Buchanan. Acoustic developmental programming: a mechanistic and evolutionary frameworkTrends in Ecology & Evolution, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2021.04.007

some are more likely to get hearing loss

New study finds genetic predisposition for noise-induced hearing loss

by University of Southern California

Keck Medicine of USC-led study finds genetic predisposition for noise-induced hearing loss
Immunostained mouse auditory nerve synapses after noise exposure. A team led by Keck Medicine of USC neuroscientists first to publish genome-wide association study for noise-induced hearing loss in mice. Credit: Rick A. Friedman Lab

In a new genome-wide association study, an international team led by Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California (USC) neuroscientists has found evidence that some people may be more genetically susceptible to noise-induced hearing loss than others.

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common work-related illnesses in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. At especially high risk are troops in the Armed Forces. In 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported hearing loss as one of the most common disabilities among veterans receiving disability compensation.

Those at higher, genetic risk for hearing loss may decide to take additional precautionary measures to protect their hearing prior to hazardous noise exposure, study authors say.

“Understanding the biological processes that affect susceptibility to hearing loss due to loud noise exposure is an important factor in reducing the risk,” said Keck Medicine of USC otologist Rick A. Friedman, M.D., Ph.D., professor of otolaryngology and neurosurgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and senior author of the study. “We have made great advances in hearing restoration, but nothing can compare to protecting the hearing you have and preventing hearing loss in the first place.”

The study, “Genome-wide association study identifies Nox3 as a critical gene for susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss,” appears in the April 16 edition of PLOS Genetics, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

While some gene association studies on noise-induced hearing loss in people have been conducted in the past, all were very small and their results un-replicated. Genome-wide association studies, or GWAS, search the entire genome for common genetic variants to see if any of those variants are associated with a trait. Mouse GWAS have lead to the discovery of hundreds of genes involved in complex traits that have immediate relevance to people.

In the USC study, conducted at the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute, Friedman’s team identified the Nox3 gene, which is almost exclusively expressed in the inner ear, as a key gene for susceptibility to noise-induced hearing loss. Using 64 of the 100 strains of mice in the Hybrid Mouse Diversity Panel, the team was able to increase the statistical power of its investigation, leading to the first published GWAS for noise-induced hearing loss in mice.

More research is necessary before clinical recommendations can be made.

Explore furtherResearchers gain insight into protective mechanisms for hearing loss

hearing loss in women may be preventable

Women with osteoporosis and low bone density have higher risk of hearing loss

May 25 2021

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States. Previous studies of people with hearing loss have uncovered higher prevalence of osteoporosis — a disease in which the bones become weak and brittle — and low bone density (LBD).

But research on whether these conditions may influence risk of hearing loss over time is scarce. It is also unknown whether hearing loss can be avoided by taking bisphosphonates, the primary medication used to prevent fractures in people with reduced bone density. As part of the Conservation of Hearing Study (CHEARS), researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital analyzed data from nearly 144,000 women who were followed for up to 34 years.

They found that risk of subsequent moderate or worse hearing loss was up to 40 percent higher in study participants with osteoporosis or LBD. The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society, also found that bisphosphonates did not alter risk of hearing loss.

Adult onset hearing loss is typically irreversible; therefore, CHEARS focuses on identifying potentially modifiable risk factors that may contribute to hearing loss. We were inspired by a recent study that found that bisphosphonates may help prevent noise-induced hearing damage in mice. We wanted to investigate whether bisphosphonates alter risk of hearing loss in adults, in addition to whether there is a longitudinal association between osteoporosis or LBD and risk of subsequent hearing loss.”

Sharon Curhan, MD, ScM, Study Leader, Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

For their analysis, the researchers used data from the decades-long Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and NHS II, two large ongoing prospective cohorts of female registered nurses, established in 1976 and 1989, respectively. The researchers examined hearing loss that was moderate or worse in severity, as self-reported by participants on questionnaires completed every two years. Additionally, they used the CHEARS Audiometry Assessment Arm to incorporate data on participants’ audiometric thresholds (a measure of hearing sensitivity based on the loudness of sound).

In both the NHS and NHS II cohorts, the researchers found that the risk of hearing loss was higher in women with osteoporosis or LBD, and that taking bisphosphonates did not moderate the elevated risk. More research is required to understand whether the type, dose or timing of bisphosphonate use might influence its impact.

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The researchers found that a history of vertebral fracture was associated with up to a 40 percent higher risk of hearing loss, but the same did not hold true for hip fractures, the two most common osteoporosis-related fractures. “The differing findings between these skeletal sites may reflect differences in the composition and metabolism of the bones in the spine and in the hip,” Curhan said. “These findings could provide new insight into the changes in the bone that surrounds the middle and inner ear that may contribute to hearing loss.”

While the underlying mechanisms by which osteoporosis and LBD may contribute to aging-related hearing loss remain unclear, the researchers suggest that abnormal bone remodeling and changes in the pathways involved in maintaining bone homeostasis may influence the integrity of the bone that protects the nerves and structures involved in hearing or alter ion and fluid metabolism in the cochlea, the main structure involved in hearing.

Advantages of using data from these well-characterized cohorts include the large study population, extensive array of detailed information, impressive follow-up rates and reliable information on health-related outcomes, as the participants are trained health care providers. However, the researchers note that their study is limited in its generalizability, as participants are predominantly white, with similar educational achievements and socio-economic statuses. Curhan points out that additional studies that examine these associations in men and non-white women would be informative.

Additionally, the investigators plan to examine in the future whether calcium and vitamin D intake are associated with hearing loss, as they have been shown to help prevent osteoporosis. Previously, the researchers found that eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, not smoking, and maintaining a healthy weight all help reduce the risk of hearing loss.

“Osteoporosis and low bone density may be important contributors to aging-related hearing loss,” Curhan said. “Building lifelong healthy diet and lifestyle habits could provide important benefits for protecting bone and hearing health in the future.”Source:

Brigham and Women’s HospitalJournal reference:

Curhan, S. G., et al. (2021) Osteoporosis, bisphosphonate use, and risk of moderate or worse hearing loss in women. Journal of American Geriatrics

zoom fatigue worse for women

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Zoom fatigue worse for women, Stanford study finds

In the first large-scale study examining the full extent of Zoom fatigue, Stanford researchers find that women report feeling more exhausted than men following video calls – and the “self-view” display may be to blame.


With the pandemic forcing many Americans to retreat into their homes, video calls have taken over people’s work and personal lives. Now, new Stanford research reveals how the shift from in-person meetings to virtual ones has taken its toll, particularly among women.

In the first large-scale study examining the full extent of Zoom fatigue, Stanford researchers find that women report feeling more exhausted than men following video calls. (Image credit: Getty Images)

The feeling of exhaustion that comes from a day of back-to-back online meetings – also known as “Zoom fatigue” – is greater for women, according to the researchers’ data. They found that overall, one in seven women – 13.8 percent – compared with one in 20 men – 5.5 percent – reported feeling “very” to “extremely” fatigued after Zoom calls.

These new findings build on a paper the Stanford researchers recently published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior that explored why people might feel exhausted following video conference calls. Now, they have the data to show who is feeling the strain. For their follow-up study, the researchers surveyed 10,322 participants in February and March using their “Zoom Exhaustion and Fatigue Scale” to better understand the individual differences of burnout from the extended use of video conferencing technologies during the past year.

These findings add to a growing understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately affecting certain groups of people, said Jeffrey Hancock, professor of communication in the School of Humanities and Sciences and co-author of the new study released April 13 on the Social Science Research Network.

“We’ve all heard stories about Zoom fatigue and anecdotal evidence that women are affected more, but now we have quantitative data that Zoom fatigue is worse for women, and more importantly, we know why,” Hancock said.

The researchers found that what contributed most to the feeling of exhaustion among women was an increase in what social psychologists describe as “self-focused attention” triggered by the self-view in video conferencing.

“Self-focused attention refers to a heightened awareness of how one comes across or how one appears in a conversation,” Hancock said.

To measure this effect, the researchers asked participants questions such as: “During a video conference, how concerned do you feel about seeing yourself?” and “During a video conference, how distracting is it to see yourself?”

The researchers found that women answered these questions at higher rates than men – a finding that is consistent with existing research that shows women have a greater propensity to self-focus than men when they are in the presence of a mirror. That prolonged self-focus can produce negative emotions, or what the researchers call “mirror anxiety,” Hancock explained.

A simple solution is to change the default display settings and turn off “self-view.”

Also contributing to an increase in Zoom fatigue among women were feelings of being physically trapped by the need to stay centered in the camera’s field of view. Unlike face-to-face meetings where people can move around, pace or stretch, video conferencing limits movement. Another way to address this is to move farther away from the screen or to turn off one’s video during parts of calls.

The researchers found that while women have the same number of meetings per day as men, their meetings tend to run longer. Women were also less likely to take breaks between meetings – all factors that contributed to increased weariness.

The pattern of women being more burned out from videoconferencing than men appears to be robust. “We see this gender effect across multiple different studies, and even after taking into account other factors. It’s a really consistent finding,” Hancock said.

Other differences – personality, age and race

Action items organizations can make to reduce Zoom fatigue:

  1. Implement no-video meeting days. Have a day each week that does not require any video meetings.
  2. If video is not necessary for a meeting, make “video off” mandatory for that meeting. People should think hard about whether video is necessary for a meeting, and if it is not, make video-off mandatory so that no one feels the pressure to keep it on.
  3. Find out if your employees or colleagues are fatigued. Have your employees take the Stanford ZEF scale to measure their fatigue and find solutions to help reduce it.

Also associated with Zoom fatigue was personality types: Extraverts reported lower levels of exhaustion following video conferencing than introverts. Calm, emotionally stable people also reported less exhaustion than more anxious individuals, who may also have been affected by the self-attention triggered by the digital mirror.

Age mattered as well: Younger individuals reported higher levels of tiredness compared with older survey participants.

Another factor was race: The researchers’ preliminary data shows that people of color reported a slightly higher level of Zoom fatigue compared with white participants. The researchers are exploring what contributed to this finding in a follow-up project with scholars, including their Stanford colleagues, who study race and media.

“We are working to understand what might be causing this race effect and develop solutions to address it,” Hancock said.

Next steps

While individuals can make changes to their own work habits to avoid burnout, the researchers urge organizations to rethink how they manage their remote workforce. For example, companies could organize more meetings that are video-free, offer guidelines on how frequent and long meetings should be and specify more breaks between meetings.

The paper’s contributors include joint first authors Geraldine Fauville, who was a postdoctoral scholar in the lab when she conducted the research and is now a researcher at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Mufan Luo, a doctoral student in the Stanford Social Media Lab. Anna Carolina Muller Queiroz, a visiting research student at the Virtual Human Interaction Lab, also contributed along with senior authors Jeffrey Hancock, the Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communication, and Jeremy Bailenson, the Thomas More Storke Professor of Communication.

Media Contacts

Melissa De Witte, Stanford News Service:

improve your understanding

How Music Training Can Improve Life with Hearing Loss

Julia Métraux

Health Writer

24 May 2021

Adjusting to life with hearing loss can be difficult, and some people need support beyond wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants to truly thrive. If you find yourself exhausted by concentrating while wearing hearing devices, auditory training could be a good boost. Training that involves music can be a fun and engaging option.

First, let’s take a quick dive into auditory training, sometimes called “aural rehabilitation.” The goal of auditory training is to strengthen the brain’s auditory processing capability. According to Anne D. Olson, Ph.D., it “can be defined as a purposeful and systematic presentation of sounds such that listeners are taught to make perceptual distinctions about those sounds.” This can improve listening accuracy.

When patients with suspected hearing loss enter her clinic, audiologist Jill Davis, AuD performs a cognitive screener as well as one with a background noise. “Seventy percent of patients performed well with just the hearing aids alone. For that thirty percent that need a little extra help, that’s when auditory training comes into play,” Davis told Hearing Tracker.

The role of music in auditory training

There are different types of auditory training, but an interesting avenue—and one that Davis implements at her practice—is music training. This involves learning to play an instrument and differs from music therapy, which is using music as a therapeutic tool to treat physical, emotional and/or cognitive symptoms.

When Davis begins working with people who may benefit from auditory training due to concentration issues, she asks if they play an instrument. “Research shows that playing music can help build up their abilities. Surprisingly, many answer that ‘I’ve always wanted to play an instrument,’ or ‘I have a piano that’s collecting dust that I’ve never played,’” Davis said. Music training may be even more beneficial for people who do not have a background in music.

How music training helps

Why is music such a good practice for those with hearing loss? In both researching the benefits of music training and seeing the results in her patients, Davis found that music training can help people who struggle with background noise. “What I found was that if you play an instrument, your brain ‘works’ faster, you hear better in background noise, and daily life is just easier,” Davis said. “So I wanted to use that to help people with hearing loss train their brains to hear better and [filter out] background noise.”

And this isn’t just Davis’ opinion. A systematic review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that music training offers an array of benefits to people with hearing loss. These include helping people with hearing loss tell sounds apart based on pitch, duration, and timbre. Music training can also enhance working memory in people with hearing loss, which is the “ability to temporally maintain and manipulate information,” which may ease the experience of listening exhaustion.

Who benefits from music training?

Music training can help those who have congenital or acquired hearing loss, according to Céline Hidalgo, PhD, one of the authors of the review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. She told Hearing Tracker, “For congenital deafness, this allows the development of general cognitive functions that will allow harmonious development of language and communication” through cochlear implants.

Music training, according to Davis, can be helpful to people with a range of hearing loss, and it can be useful for people who may have put off auditory training. “As long as they can hear the music that we are playing, no matter what their level of discrimination or the significance of their loss, we see that we can improve at any point in the journey,” Davis said.

How to participate in music training

For people who participate in music training, “most of the time” wearing hearing aids helps “but a part can also be carried out without the aids or the implant during the work of the rhythm, which can essentially be perceived at the tactile level,” Hidalgo said.

People who participate in music training may see changes after only three months, according to Davis, and the sessions don’t need to always be in person. “I was trying to find ways that my patients could play without having to do in-person instructions,” she explained. “I found and partnered with a piano-playing app” to allow for a virtual component to the program.

If you want to participate in music training yourself or encourage a family member to do so, you can find an instructor or a class online. Learn-to-play apps are a good option, too. Whatever route you choose, do speak to a hearing health professional to see if your program would qualify as auditory training. That way, you’ll ensure that the joy of music is also helping to improve your skills.

Julia Métraux

Health Writer

Julia Métraux is a health and culture writer with hearing loss and a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists. Check out her portfolio.Connect →

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