Article | Published:

Elemental gesture dynamics are encoded by song premotor cortical neurons

Nature volume 495, pages 5964 (07 March 2013) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Quantitative biomechanical models can identify control parameters that are used during movements, and movement parameters that are encoded by premotor neurons. We fit a mathematical dynamical systems model including subsyringeal pressure, syringeal biomechanics and upper-vocal-tract filtering to the songs of zebra finches. This reduces the dimensionality of singing dynamics, described as trajectories (motor ‘gestures’) in a space of syringeal pressure and tension. Here we assess model performance by characterizing the auditory response ‘replay’ of song premotor HVC neurons to the presentation of song variants in sleeping birds, and by examining HVC activity in singing birds. HVC projection neurons were excited and interneurons were suppressed within a few milliseconds of the extreme time points of the gesture trajectories. Thus, the HVC precisely encodes vocal motor output through activity at the times of extreme points of movement trajectories. We propose that the sequential activity of HVC neurons is used as a ‘forward’ model, representing the sequence of gestures in song to make predictions on expected behaviour and evaluate feedback.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to R. H. R. Hahnloser for help with the microdrives and techniques used to record from singing birds. We thank H. D. I. Abarbanel, T. Q. Gentner, H. C. Nusbaum and S. E. Palmer for valuable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Human Frontiers Science Program cross-disciplinary fellowship award to A.A., NIDCD006876, ANCyT, CONICET and UBA awards to G.B.M. and Y.S.P., and NIDCD and NSF/CRCNS awards to D.M.

Author information

Author notes

    • Ana Amador

    Present address: Department of Physics, FCEN, University of Buenos Aires, Intendente Guiraldes 2160, Pabellon 1, Buenos Aires 1428, Argentina.

Affiliations

  1. Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, University of Chicago, 1027 East 57th Street, Chicago, Ilinois 60637, USA

    • Ana Amador
    •  & Daniel Margoliash
  2. Department of Physics, FCEN, University of Buenos Aires, Intendente Guiraldes 2160, Pabellon 1, Buenos Aires 1428, Argentina

    • Yonatan Sanz Perl
    •  & Gabriel B. Mindlin

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Contributions

Author Contributions A.A., G.B.M. and Y.S.P. developed the syringeal model, G.B.M. and Y.S.P. modelled the songs, A.A. conducted surgeries, sound recordings and collected the electrophysiological data, A.A., G.B.M. and D.M. conceived and designed the experiments, and prepared the manuscript. All four authors participated in data analysis.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daniel Margoliash.

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    Supplementary Information

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11967

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