PerspectiveNeuroscience

Precise vocal timing needs cortical control

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Science  01 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6430, pp. 926-927
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw5562

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Summary

Understanding the evolution of the neural foundation of vocal communication systems remains one of the major challenges of biology (1). A key motivation for clarifying the basic principles of vocal control lies in its relevance to human speech production (2). Although undoubtedly the neuronal networks involved in human speech production are more complex than the vocal motor systems of mammals in general, evolutionary theories postulate pre-adaptations in the mammalian lineage, no matter how exiguous they might be (2, 3). One such crucial pre-adaptation is the emergence of prefrontal and/or motor cortical control mechanisms that are capable of precisely initiating and/or modulating a phylogenetically conserved mammalian primary vocal motor network (4). On page 983 of this issue, Okobi et al. (5) investigated the underlying neural substrate involved in audio-vocal (sensorimotor) interaction in a newly established model system, the Alston's singing mouse, a vocal neotropical rodent from the cloud forest in Central America (6). They reveal that cortical control of vocal timing is already present in this vocal rodent.

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