Disrupting Vagal Feedback Affects Birdsong Motor Control

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Coordination of different motor systems for sound production involves the use of feedback mechanisms. Song production in oscines is a well-established animal model for studying learned vocal behavior. Whereas the online use of auditory feedback has been studied in the songbird model, very little is known about the role of other feedback mechanisms. Auditory feedback is required for the maintenance of stereotyped adult song. In addition, the use of somatosensory feedback to maintain pressure during song has been demonstrated with experimentally induced fluctuations in air sac pressure. Feedback information mediating this response is thought to be routed to the central nervous system via afferent fibers of the vagus nerve. Here, we tested the effects of unilateral vagotomy on the peripheral motor patterns of song production and the acoustic features. Unilateral vagotomy caused a variety of disruptions and alterations to the respiratory pattern of song, some of which affected the acoustic structure of vocalizations. These changes were most pronounced a few days after nerve resection and varied between individuals. In the most extreme cases, the motor gestures of respiration were so severely disrupted that individual song syllables or the song motif were atypically terminated. Acoustic changes also suggest altered use of the two sound generators and upper vocal tract filtering, indicating that the disruption of vagal feedback caused changes to the motor program of all motor systems involved in song production and modification. This evidence for the use of vagal feedback by the song system with disruption of song during the first days after nerve cut provides a contrast to the longer-term effects of auditory feedback disruption. It suggests a significant role for somatosensory feedback that differs from that of auditory feedback.


Physics and Astronomy

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Journal of Experimental Biology