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Temporal scaling of motor cortical dynamics reveals hierarchical control of vocal production

Banerjee, Arkarup; Chen, Feng; Druckmann, Shaul; Long, Michael A
Neocortical activity is thought to mediate voluntary control over vocal production, but the underlying neural mechanisms remain unclear. In a highly vocal rodent, the male Alston's singing mouse, we investigate neural dynamics in the orofacial motor cortex (OMC), a structure critical for vocal behavior. We first describe neural activity that is modulated by component notes (~100 ms), probably representing sensory feedback. At longer timescales, however, OMC neurons exhibit diverse and often persistent premotor firing patterns that stretch or compress with song duration (~10 s). Using computational modeling, we demonstrate that such temporal scaling, acting through downstream motor production circuits, can enable vocal flexibility. These results provide a framework for studying hierarchical control circuits, a common design principle across many natural and artificial systems.
PMID: 38291282
ISSN: 1546-1726
CID: 5627552

Uncoordinated sleep replay across hemispheres in the zebra finch

Elmaleh, Margot; Yang, Zetian; Ackert-Smith, Lyn A; Long, Michael A
Bilaterally organized brain regions are often simultaneously active in both humans1
PMID: 37757833
ISSN: 1879-0445
CID: 5607332

De novo assembly and annotation of the singing mouse genome

Smith, Samantha K; Frazel, Paul W; Khodadadi-Jamayran, Alireza; Zappile, Paul; Marier, Christian; Okhovat, Mariam; Brown, Stuart; Long, Michael A; Heguy, Adriana; Phelps, Steven M
BACKGROUND:Developing genomic resources for a diverse range of species is an important step towards understanding the mechanisms underlying complex traits. Specifically, organisms that exhibit unique and accessible phenotypes-of-interest allow researchers to address questions that may be ill-suited to traditional model organisms. We sequenced the genome and transcriptome of Alston's singing mouse (Scotinomys teguina), an emerging model for social cognition and vocal communication. In addition to producing advertisement songs used for mate attraction and male-male competition, these rodents are diurnal, live at high-altitudes, and are obligate insectivores, providing opportunities to explore diverse physiological, ecological, and evolutionary questions. RESULTS:Using PromethION, Illumina, and PacBio sequencing, we produced an annotated genome and transcriptome, which were validated using gene expression and functional enrichment analyses. To assess the usefulness of our assemblies, we performed single nuclei sequencing on cells of the orofacial motor cortex, a brain region implicated in song coordination, identifying 12 cell types. CONCLUSIONS:These resources will provide the opportunity to identify the molecular basis of complex traits in singing mice as well as to contribute data that can be used for large-scale comparative analyses.
PMID: 37749493
ISSN: 1471-2164
CID: 5606392

Thalamus drives vocal onsets in the zebra finch courtship song

Moll, Felix W; Kranz, Devorah; Corredera Asensio, Ariadna; Elmaleh, Margot; Ackert-Smith, Lyn A; Long, Michael A
While motor cortical circuits contain information related to specific movement parameters1, long-range inputs also have a critical role in action execution2,3. Thalamic projections can shape premotor activity2-6 and have been suggested7 to mediate the selection of short, stereotyped actions comprising more complex behaviours8. However, the mechanisms by which thalamus interacts with motor cortical circuits to execute such movement sequences remain unknown. Here we find that thalamic drive engages a specific subpopulation of premotor neurons within the zebra finch song nucleus HVC (proper name) and that these inputs are critical for the progression between vocal motor elements (that is, 'syllables'). In vivo two-photon imaging of thalamic axons in HVC showed robust song-related activity, and online perturbations of thalamic function caused song to be truncated at syllable boundaries. We used thalamic stimulation to identify a sparse set of thalamically driven neurons within HVC, representing ~15% of the premotor neurons within that network. Unexpectedly, this population of putative thalamorecipient neurons is robustly active immediately preceding syllable onset, leading to the possibility that thalamic input can initiate individual song components through selectively targeting these 'starter cells'. Our findings highlight the motor thalamus as a director of cortical dynamics in the context of an ethologically relevant behavioural sequence.
PMID: 36949189
ISSN: 1476-4687
CID: 5466682

Mapping the vocal circuitry of Alston's singing mouse with pseudorabies virus

Zheng, Da-Jiang; Okobi, Daniel E; Shu, Ryan; Agrawal, Rania; Smith, Samantha K; Long, Michael A; Phelps, Steven M
Vocalizations are often elaborate, rhythmically structured behaviors. Vocal motor patterns require close coordination of neural circuits governing the muscles of the larynx, jaw, and respiratory system. In the elaborate vocalization of Alston's singing mouse (Scotinomys teguina) each note of its rapid, frequency-modulated trill is accompanied by equally rapid modulation of breath and gape. To elucidate the neural circuitry underlying this behavior, we introduced the polysynaptic retrograde neuronal tracer pseudorabies virus (PRV) into the cricothyroid and digastricus muscles, which control frequency modulation and jaw opening, respectively. Each virus singly labels ipsilateral motoneurons (nucleus ambiguus for cricothyroid, and motor trigeminal nucleus for digastricus). We find that the two isogenic viruses heavily and bilaterally colabel neurons in the gigantocellular reticular formation, a putative central pattern generator. The viruses also show strong colabeling in compartments of the midbrain including the ventrolateral periaqueductal gray and the parabrachial nucleus, two structures strongly implicated in vocalizations. In the forebrain, regions important to social cognition and energy balance both exhibit extensive colabeling. This includes the paraventricular and arcuate nuclei of the hypothalamus, the lateral hypothalamus, preoptic area, extended amygdala, central amygdala, and the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis. Finally, we find doubly labeled neurons in M1 motor cortex previously described as laryngeal, as well as in the prelimbic cortex, which indicate these cortical regions play a role in vocal production. The progress of both viruses is broadly consistent with vertebrate-general patterns of vocal circuitry, as well as with circuit models derived from primate literature.
PMID: 35385140
ISSN: 1096-9861
CID: 5204932

A Theoretical Framework for Human and Nonhuman Vocal Interaction

Castellucci, Gregg A; Guenther, Frank H; Long, Michael A
Vocal communication is a critical feature of social interaction across species; however, the relation between such behavior in humans and nonhumans remains unclear. To enable comparative investigation of this topic, we review the literature pertinent to interactive language use and identify the superset of cognitive operations involved in generating communicative action. We posit these functions comprise three intersecting multistep pathways: (a) the Content Pathway, which selects the movements constituting a response; (b) the Timing Pathway, which temporally structures responses; and (c) the Affect Pathway, which modulates response parameters according to internal state. These processing streams form the basis of the Convergent Pathways for Interaction framework, which provides a conceptual model for investigating the cognitive and neural computations underlying vocal communication across species. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Neuroscience, Volume 45 is July 2022. Please see for revised estimates.
PMID: 35316612
ISSN: 1545-4126
CID: 5206642

A speech planning network for interactive language use

Castellucci, Gregg A; Kovach, Christopher K; Howard, Matthew A; Greenlee, Jeremy D W; Long, Michael A
During conversation, people take turns speaking by rapidly responding to their partners while simultaneously avoiding interruption1,2. Such interactions display a remarkable degree of coordination, as gaps between turns are typically about 200 milliseconds3-approximately the duration of an eyeblink4. These latencies are considerably shorter than those observed in simple word-production tasks, which indicates that speakers often plan their responses while listening to their partners2. Although a distributed network of brain regions has been implicated in speech planning5-9, the neural dynamics underlying the specific preparatory processes that enable rapid turn-taking are poorly understood. Here we use intracranial electrocorticography to precisely measure neural activity as participants perform interactive tasks, and we observe a functionally and anatomically distinct class of planning-related cortical dynamics. We localize these responses to a frontotemporal circuit centred on the language-critical caudal inferior frontal cortex10 (Broca's region) and the caudal middle frontal gyrus-a region not normally implicated in speech planning11-13. Using a series of motor tasks, we then show that this planning network is more active when preparing speech as opposed to non-linguistic actions. Finally, we delineate planning-related circuitry during natural conversation that is nearly identical to the network mapped with our interactive tasks, and we find this circuit to be most active before participant speech during unconstrained turn-taking. Therefore, we have identified a speech planning network that is central to natural language generation during social interaction.
PMID: 34987226
ISSN: 1476-4687
CID: 5107222

Sleep replay reveals premotor circuit structure for a skilled behavior

Elmaleh, Margot; Kranz, Devorah; Asensio, Ariadna Corredera; Moll, Felix W; Long, Michael A
Neural circuits often exhibit sequences of activity, but the contribution of local networks to their generation remains unclear. In the zebra finch, song-related premotor sequences within HVC may result from some combination of local connectivity and long-range thalamic inputs from nucleus uvaeformis (Uva). Because lesions to either structure abolish song, we examine "sleep replay" using high-density recording methods to reconstruct precise song-related events. Replay activity persists after the upstream nucleus interfacialis of the nidopallium is lesioned and slows when HVC is cooled, demonstrating that HVC provides temporal structure for these events. To further gauge the importance of intra-HVC connectivity for shaping network dynamics, we lesion Uva during sleep and find that residual replay sequences could span syllable boundaries, supporting a model in which HVC can propagate sequences throughout the duration of the song. Our results highlight the power of studying offline activity to investigate behaviorally relevant circuit organization.
PMID: 34626537
ISSN: 1097-4199
CID: 5074572

Using focal cooling to link neural dynamics and behavior

Banerjee, Arkarup; Egger, Robert; Long, Michael A
Establishing a causal link between neural function and behavioral output has remained a challenging problem. Commonly used perturbation techniques enable unprecedented control over intrinsic activity patterns and can effectively identify crucial circuit elements important for specific behaviors. However, these approaches may severely disrupt activity, precluding an investigation into the behavioral relevance of moment-to-moment neural dynamics within a specified brain region. Here we discuss the application of mild focal cooling to slow down intrinsic neural circuit activity while preserving its overall structure. Using network modeling and examples from multiple species, we highlight the power and versatility of focal cooling for understanding how neural dynamics control behavior and argue for its wider adoption within the systems neuroscience community.
PMID: 34171292
ISSN: 1097-4199
CID: 4988232

A Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial of Text Messaging to Increase Tobacco Treatment Reach in the Emergency Department

Abroms, Lorien C; Wu, Keng-Chieh; Krishnan, Nandita; Long, Michael; Belay, Sarah; Sherman, Scott; McCarthy, Melissa
INTRODUCTION:Automated text messaging programs have been studied as a treatment tool, but have not been studied as an outreach tool to increase the reach of smoking cessation treatment. AIMS AND METHODS:Two distinct text messaging programs were developed. One was aimed at connecting smokers to quitline phone counseling via text message (Text4Coach [T4C]) and the other was aimed at connecting smokers to a smoking cessation text messaging program (Text&Quit [T&Q]). Adult daily smokers with Medicaid insurance (N = 80) were recruited from the Emergency Department at an urban hospital and randomized to T4C or T&Q. The primary outcome was program reach. RESULTS:Outreach text messages were found to have moderately high uptake, with the majority of participants (63.8%) opting into their assigned tobacco treatment program and younger and female participants more likely to opt in (p < .01). Receipt of the treatment portion of the program differed among the programs with 67.5% of T&Q receiving the treatment program and 27.5% of T4C receiving the program (p < .001). Most participants across both groups replied to at least one message (71.3%) and very few unsubscribed from the service over the 3-week trial. The majority of participants reported overall satisfaction with their program (63.8%), found it helpful for quitting smoking (60.0%) and would recommend the program to a friend (62.5%). Overall, 11 (13.8%) participants reported being abstinent from smoking for the past 7 days at follow-up, with no differences between groups. CONCLUSIONS:Outreach text messages were found to have moderately high reach among Medicaid smokers. Larger trials are needed to evaluate the impact of such programs on helping low-income smokers quit. IMPLICATIONS:Automated text messaging programs have been tested as a treatment tool, but have not been tested as an outreach tool to increase the reach of smoking cessation treatment. This study tests a new way of conducting outreach to smokers in a health system through text messages. It tests the effect of outreach on (1) rates of opting in and (2) successful treatment delivery. Results may inform new models of providing outreach for tobacco treatment in health systems.
PMID: 33684207
ISSN: 1469-994x
CID: 5060762