Smooth operator: avoidance of subharmonic bifurcations through mechanical mechanisms simplifies song motor control in adult zebra finches.
ABSTRACT: Like human infants, songbirds acquire their song by imitation and eventually generate sounds that result from complicated neural networks and intrinsically nonlinear physical processes. Signatures of low-dimensional chaos such as subharmonic bifurcations have been reported in adult and developing zebra finch song. Here, we use methods from nonlinear dynamics to test whether adult male zebra finches (Taenopygia guttata) use the intrinsic nonlinear properties of their vocal organ, the syrinx, to insert subharmonic transitions in their song. In contrast to previous data on the basis of spectrographic evidence, we show that subharmonic transitions do not occur in adult song. Subharmonic transitions also do not arise in artificially induced sound in the intact syrinx, but are commonly generated in the excised syrinx. These findings suggest that subharmonic transitions are not used to increase song complexity, and that the brain controls song in a surprisingly smooth control regimen. Fast, smooth changes in acoustic elements can be produced by direct motor control in a stereotyped fashion, which is a more reliable indicator of male fitness than abrupt acoustic changes that do not require similarly precise control. Consistent with this view is the presence of high fidelity at every level of motor control, from telencephalic premotor areas to superfast syringeal muscles.
Project description:BACKGROUND: Like human infants, songbirds learn their species-specific vocalizations through imitation learning. The birdsong system has emerged as a widely used experimental animal model for understanding the underlying neural mechanisms responsible for vocal production learning. However, how neural impulses are translated into the precise motor behavior of the complex vocal organ (syrinx) to create song is poorly understood. First and foremost, we lack a detailed understanding of syringeal morphology. RESULTS: To fill this gap we combined non-invasive (high-field magnetic resonance imaging and micro-computed tomography) and invasive techniques (histology and micro-dissection) to construct the annotated high-resolution three-dimensional dataset, or morphome, of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) syrinx. We identified and annotated syringeal cartilage, bone and musculature in situ in unprecedented detail. We provide interactive three-dimensional models that greatly improve the communication of complex morphological data and our understanding of syringeal function in general. CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the syringeal skeleton is optimized for low weight driven by physiological constraints on song production. The present refinement of muscle organization and identity elucidates how apposed muscles actuate different syringeal elements. Our dataset allows for more precise predictions about muscle co-activation and synergies and has important implications for muscle activity and stimulation experiments. We also demonstrate how the syrinx can be stabilized during song to reduce mechanical noise and, as such, enhance repetitive execution of stereotypic motor patterns. In addition, we identify a cartilaginous structure suited to play a crucial role in the uncoupling of sound frequency and amplitude control, which permits a novel explanation of the evolutionary success of songbirds.
Project description:Birdsong is a widely used model for vocal learning and human speech, which exhibits high temporal and acoustic diversity. Rapid acoustic modulations are thought to arise from the vocal organ, the syrinx, by passive interactions between the two independent sound generators or intrinsic nonlinear dynamics of sound generating structures. Additionally, direct neuromuscular control could produce such rapid and precisely timed acoustic features if syringeal muscles exhibit rare superfast muscle contractile kinetics. However, no direct evidence exists that avian vocal muscles can produce modulations at such high rates. Here, we show that 1) syringeal muscles are active in phase with sound modulations during song over 200 Hz, 2) direct stimulation of the muscles in situ produces sound modulations at the frequency observed during singing, and that 3) syringeal muscles produce mechanical work at the required frequencies and up to 250 Hz in vitro. The twitch kinematics of these so-called superfast muscles are the fastest measured in any vertebrate muscle. Superfast vocal muscles enable birds to directly control the generation of many observed rapid acoustic changes and to actuate the millisecond precision of neural activity into precise temporal vocal control. Furthermore, birds now join the list of vertebrate classes in which superfast muscle kinetics evolved independently for acoustic communication.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Singing in songbirds is a complex, learned behavior which shares many parallels with human speech. The avian vocal organ (syrinx) has two potential sound sources, and each sound generator is under unilateral, ipsilateral neural control. Different songbird species vary in their use of bilateral or unilateral phonation (lateralized sound production) and rapid switching between left and right sound generation (interhemispheric switching of motor control). Bengalese finches (Lonchura striata domestica) have received considerable attention, because they rapidly modify their song in response to manipulations of auditory feedback. However, how the left and right sides of the syrinx contribute to acoustic control of song has not been studied. METHODOLOGY:Three manipulations of lateralized syringeal control of sound production were conducted. First, unilateral syringeal muscular control was eliminated by resection of the left or right tracheosyringeal portion of the hypoglossal nerve, which provides neuromuscular innervation of the syrinx. Spectral and temporal features of song were compared before and after lateralized nerve injury. In a second experiment, either the left or right sound source was devoiced to confirm the role of each sound generator in the control of acoustic phonology. Third, air pressure was recorded before and after unilateral denervation to enable quantification of acoustic change within individual syllables following lateralized nerve resection. SIGNIFICANCE:These experiments demonstrate that the left sound source produces louder, higher frequency, lower entropy sounds, and the right sound generator produces lower amplitude, lower frequency, higher entropy sounds. The bilateral division of labor is complex and the frequency specialization is the opposite pattern observed in most songbirds. Further, there is evidence for rapid interhemispheric switching during song production. Lateralized control of song production in Bengalese finches may enhance acoustic complexity of song and facilitate the rapid modification of sound production following manipulations of auditory feedback.
Project description:The biomechanics of sound production forms an integral part of the neuromechanical control loop of avian vocal motor control. However, we critically lack quantification of basic biomechanical parameters describing the vocal organ, the syrinx, such as material properties of syringeal elements, forces and torques exerted on, and motion of the syringeal skeleton during song. Here, we present a novel marker-based 3D stereoscopic imaging technique to reconstruct 3D motion of servo-controlled actuation of syringeal muscle insertions sites in vitro and focus on two muscles controlling sound pitch. We furthermore combine kinematic analysis with force measurements to quantify elastic properties of sound producing medial labia (ML). The elastic modulus of the zebra finch ML is 18 kPa at 5% strain, which is comparable to elastic moduli of mammalian vocal folds. Additionally ML lengthening due to musculus syringealis ventralis (VS) shortening is intrinsically constraint at maximally 12% strain. Using these values we predict sound pitch to range from 350-800?Hz by VS modulation, corresponding well to previous observations. The presented methodology allows for quantification of syringeal skeleton motion and forces, acoustic effects of muscle recruitment, and calibration of computational birdsong models, enabling experimental access to the entire neuromechanical control loop of vocal motor control.
Project description:The coordination of complex vocal behaviors like human speech and oscine birdsong requires fine interactions between sensory and motor programs, the details of which are not completely understood. Here, we show that in sleeping male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), the activity of the song system selectively evoked by playbacks of their own song can be detected in the syrinx. Electromyograms (EMGs) of a syringeal muscle show playback-evoked patterns strikingly similar to those recorded during song execution, with preferred activation instants within the song. Using this global and continuous readout, we studied the activation dynamics of the song system elicited by different auditory stimuli. We found that synthetic versions of the bird's song, rendered by a physical model of the avian phonation apparatus, evoked very similar responses, albeit with lower efficiency. Modifications of autogenous or synthetic songs reduce the response probability, but when present, the elicited activity patterns match execution patterns in shape and timing, indicating an all-or-nothing activation of the vocal motor program.
Project description:Subharmonic imaging is of interest for high frequency (>10 MHz) nonlinear imaging, because it can specifically detect the response of ultrasound contrast agents (UCA). However, conventional UCA produce a weak subharmonic response at high frequencies, which limits the sensitivity of subharmonic imaging. We hypothesized that modifying the size distribution of the agent can enhance its high-frequency subharmonic response. The overall goal of this study was to investigate size-manipulated populations of the agent to determine the range of sizes that produce the strongest subharmonic response at high frequencies (in this case, 20 MHz). A secondary goal was to assess whether the number or the volume-weighted size distribution better represents the efficacy of the agent for high-frequency subharmonic imaging.The authors created six distinct agent size distributions from the native distribution of a commercially available UCA (Targestar-P®). The median (number-weighted) diameter of the native agent was 1.63 μm, while the median diameters of the size-manipulated populations ranged from 1.35 to 2.99 μm. The authors conducted acoustic measurements with native and size-manipulated agent populations to assess their subharmonic response to 20 MHz excitation (pulse duration 1.5 μs, pressure amplitudes 100-398 kPa).The results showed a considerable difference between the subharmonic response of the agent populations that were investigated. The subharmonic response peaked for the agent population with a median diameter of 2.15 μm, which demonstrated a subharmonic signal that was 8 dB higher than the native agent. Comparing the subharmonic response of different UCA populations indicated that microbubbles with diameters between 1.3 and 3 μm are the dominant contributors to the subharmonic response at 20 MHz. Additionally, a better correlation was observed between the subharmonic response of the agent and the number-weighted size-distribution (R2=0.98) than with the volume-weighted size distribution (R2=0.53).Modifying the size distribution of the agent appears to be a viable strategy to improve the sensitivity of high-frequency subharmonic imaging. In addition, when the size distribution of the UCA has not been suitably modified, the number-weighted size distribution is a useful parameter to accurately describe the efficacy of the agent for high-frequency subharmonic imaging.
Project description:In many songbirds the larger vocal repertoire of males is associated with sexual dimorphism of the vocal control centers and muscles of the vocal organ, the syrinx. However, it is largely unknown how these differences are translated into different acoustic behavior.Here we show that the sound generating structures of the syrinx, the labia and the associated cartilaginous framework, also display sexual dimorphism. One of the bronchial half rings that position and tense the labia is larger in males, and the size and shape of the labia differ between males and females. The functional consequences of these differences were explored by denervating syringeal muscles. After denervation, both sexes produced equally low fundamental frequencies, but the driving pressure generally increased and was higher in males. Denervation strongly affected the relationship between driving pressure and fundamental frequency.The syringeal modifications in the male syrinx, in concert with dimorphisms in neural control and muscle mass, are most likely the foundation for the potential to generate an enhanced frequency range. Sexually dimorphic vocal behavior therefore arises from finely tuned modifications at every level of the motor cascade. This sexual dimorphism in frequency control illustrates a significant evolutionary step towards increased vocal complexity in birds.
Project description:The unique avian vocal organ, the syrinx, is located at the caudal end of the trachea. Although a larynx is also present at the opposite end, birds phonate only with the syrinx. Why only birds evolved a novel sound source at this location remains unknown, and hypotheses about its origin are largely untested. Here, we test the hypothesis that the syrinx constitutes a biomechanical advantage for sound production over the larynx with combined theoretical and experimental approaches. We investigated whether the position of a sound source within the respiratory tract affects acoustic features of the vocal output, including fundamental frequency and efficiency of conversion from aerodynamic energy to sound. Theoretical data and measurements in three bird species suggest that sound frequency is influenced by the interaction between sound source and vocal tract. A physical model and a computational simulation also indicate that a sound source in a syringeal position produces sound with greater efficiency. Interestingly, the interactions between sound source and vocal tract differed between species, suggesting that the syringeal sound source is optimized for its position in the respiratory tract. These results provide compelling evidence that strong selective pressures for high vocal efficiency may have been a major driving force in the evolution of the syrinx. The longer trachea of birds compared to other tetrapods made them likely predisposed for the evolution of a syrinx. A long vocal tract downstream from the sound source improves efficiency by facilitating the tuning between fundamental frequency and the first vocal tract resonance.
Project description: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.
Project description:Birdsong is the product of the controlled generation of sound embodied in a neuromotor system. From a biophysical perspective, a natural question is that of the difficulty of producing birdsong. To address this, we built a biomimetic syrinx consisting of a stretched simple rubber tube through which air is blown, subject to localized mechanical squeezing with a linear actuator. A large static tension on the tube and small dynamic variations in the localized squeezing allow us to control transitions between three states: a quiescent state, a periodic state and a solitary wave state. The static load brings the system close to threshold for spontaneous oscillations, while small dynamic loads allow for rapid transitions between the states. We use this to mimic a variety of birdsongs via the slow-fast modulated nonlinear dynamics of the physical substrate, the syrinx, regulated by a simple controller. Finally, a minimal mathematical model of the system inspired by our observations allows us to address the problem of song mimicry in an excitable oscillator for tonal songs.