Motor cortical control of vocal interaction in neotropical singing mice

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Science  01 Mar 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6430, pp. 983-988
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau9480

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Turn-taking in singing mice

The ability to take turns is a hallmark of social interaction among animals. It occurs in many different species, from dueting birds to frogs, and is a notable part of human speech. Such rapid response requires a complex cascade of sensory and motor actions that has been difficult to characterize. Okobi et al. examined turn-taking in tropical singing mice, in which males interrupt, and alter, each other's songs (see the Perspective by Hage). They describe an orofacial motor cortex that mediates rapid transition from the motor cortex to the vocal motor apparatus and facilitates rapid vocal interactions.

Science, this issue p. 983 see also p. 926


Like many adaptive behaviors, acoustic communication often requires rapid modification of motor output in response to sensory cues. However, little is known about the sensorimotor transformations that underlie such complex natural behaviors. In this study, we examine vocal exchanges in Alston’s singing mouse (Scotinomys teguina). We find that males modify singing behavior during social interactions on a subsecond time course that resembles both traditional sensorimotor tasks and conversational speech. We identify an orofacial motor cortical region and, via a series of perturbation experiments, demonstrate a hierarchical control of vocal production, with the motor cortex influencing the pacing of singing behavior on a moment-by-moment basis, enabling precise vocal interactions. These results suggest a systems-level framework for understanding the sensorimotor transformations that underlie natural social interactions.

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