Vocal production requires active control of the respiratory system, larynx and vocal tract. Vocal sounds in mammals are produced by flow-induced vocal fold oscillation, which requires vocal fold tissue that can sustain the mechanical stress during phonation. Our understanding of the relationship between morphology and vocal function of vocal folds is very limited. Here we tested the hypothesis that vocal fold morphology and viscoelastic properties allow a prediction of fundamental frequency range of sounds that can be produced, and minimal lung pressure necessary to initiate phonation. We tested the hypothesis in lions and tigers who are well-known for producing low frequency and very loud roaring sounds that expose vocal folds to large stresses. In histological sections, we found that the Panthera vocal fold lamina propria consists of a lateral region with adipocytes embedded in a network of collagen and elastin fibers and hyaluronan. There is also a medial region that contains only fibrous proteins and hyaluronan but no fat cells. Young's moduli range between 10 and 2000 kPa for strains up to 60%. Shear moduli ranged between 0.1 and 2 kPa and differed between layers. Biomechanical and morphological data were used to make predictions of fundamental frequency and subglottal pressure ranges. Such predictions agreed well with measurements from natural phonation and phonation of excised larynges, respectively. We assume that fat shapes Panthera vocal folds into an advantageous geometry for phonation and it protects vocal folds. Its primary function is probably not to increase vocal fold mass as suggested previously. The large square-shaped Panthera vocal fold eases phonation onset and thereby extends the dynamic range of the voice.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)