Increasing Muscle Speed Drives Changes in the Neuromuscular Transform of Motor Commands during Postnatal Development in Songbirds

Iris Adam*, Coen P.H. Elemans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Abstract

Progressive changes in vocal behavior over the course of vocal imitation leaning are often attributed exclusively to developing neural circuits, but the effects of postnatal body changes remain unknown. In songbirds, the syrinx transforms song system motor commands into sound and exhibits changes during song learning. Here we test the hypothesis that the transformation from motor commands to force trajectories by syringeal muscles functionally changes over vocal development in zebra finches. Our data collected in both sexes show that, only in males, muscle speed significantly increases and that supralinear summation occurs and increases with muscle contraction speed. Furthermore, we show that previously reported submillisecond spike timing in the avian cortex can be resolved by superfast syringeal muscles and that the sensitivity to spike timing increases with speed. Because motor neuron and muscle properties are tightly linked, we make predictions on the boundaries of the yet unknown motor code that correspond well with cortical activity. Together, we show that syringeal muscles undergo essential transformations during song learning that drastically change how neural commands are translated into force profiles and thereby acoustic features. We propose that the song system motor code must compensate for these changes to achieve its acoustic targets. Our data thus support the hypothesis that the neuromuscular transformation changes over vocal development and emphasizes the need for an embodied view of song motor learning. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Fine motor skill learning typically occurs in a postnatal period when the brain is learning to control a body that is changing dramatically due to growth and development. How the developing body influences motor code formation and vice versa remains largely unknown. Here we show that vocal muscles in songbirds undergo critical transformations during song learning that drastically change how neural commands are translated into force profiles and thereby acoustic features. We propose that the motor code must compensate for these changes to achieve its acoustic targets. Our data thus support the hypothesis that the neuromuscular transformation changes over vocal development and emphasizes the need for an embodied view of song motor learning.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Volume40
Issue number35
Pages (from-to)6722-6731
ISSN0270-6474
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 26. Aug 2020

Keywords

  • Birdsong
  • Motor control
  • Rate coding
  • Speed matching
  • Spike timing
  • Vocal muscle

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