Thursday, February 28, 2013

Songbirds' Brains Coordinate Singing With Intricate Timing

As a bird sings, some neurons in its brain prepare to make the next sounds while others are synchronized with the current notes—a coordination of physical actions and brain activity that is needed to produce complex movements, new research at the University of Chicago shows. In an article in the current issue of Nature, neuroscientist Daniel Margoliash and colleagues show, for the first time, how the brain is organized to govern skilled performance—a finding that may lead to new ways of understanding human speech production. . . . "One fascinating observation we made really surprised us: that the forebrain neurons fire precisely at the time a sound transition is being produced," Margoliash explained. "But it takes far too much time for the activity in the forebrain to influence the bird's sound box in the periphery," Margoliash continued. The neurons that the team investigated are tracking and encoding particular moments in song but are not directly controlling them. "Lower levels of the brain are controlling the sound output, but the timing of these neurons suggest that they are helping to evaluate feedback from the produced sound." more

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