Article | Published:

Using temperature to analyse temporal dynamics in the songbird motor pathway

Nature volume 456, pages 189194 (13 November 2008) | Download Citation

Abstract

Many complex behaviours, like speech or music, have a hierarchical organization with structure on many timescales, but it is not known how the brain controls the timing of behavioural sequences, or whether different circuits control different timescales of the behaviour. Here we address these issues by using temperature to manipulate the biophysical dynamics in different regions of the songbird forebrain involved in song production. We find that cooling the premotor nucleus HVC (formerly known as the high vocal centre) slows song speed across all timescales by up to 45 per cent but only slightly alters the acoustic structure, whereas cooling the downstream motor nucleus RA (robust nucleus of the arcopallium) has no observable effect on song timing. Our observations suggest that dynamics within HVC are involved in the control of song timing, perhaps through a chain-like organization. Local manipulation of brain temperature should be broadly applicable to the identification of neural circuitry that controls the timing of behavioural sequences and, more generally, to the study of the origin and role of oscillatory and other forms of brain dynamics in neural systems.

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Acknowledgements

We thank D. Aronov, T. Gardner, J. Goldberg, L. Las, B. Ölveczky, S. Seung and M. Wilson for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. This work is supported by funding from the US National Institutes of Health to M.S.F. (MH067105) and to M.A.L. (DC009280) as well as funding from the Human Frontiers Science Project.

Author Contributions M.A.L. and M.S.F. both contributed to all aspects of this work.

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  1. McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Michael A. Long
    •  & Michale S. Fee

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Correspondence to Michale S. Fee.

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    This file contains Supplementary Methods, a Supplementary Discussion with Results, a Supplementary Appendix and Supplementary Figures 1-11 with Legends

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature07448

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