Opera Medica et Physiologica

Mechanisms and Neuronal Control of Vocalization in Vertebrates

Author Affiliations

Luis R. Hernandez-Miranda and Carmen Birchmeier

Max-Delbrück-Centrum in the Helmholtz Association, Robert-Rössle-Straße 10, 13125 Berlin, Germany. 


Corresponding author: 

Luis R. Hernandez-Miranda (luis.hernandes@mdc-berlin.de) and  Carmen Birchmeier (cbirch@mdc-berlin.de)


Vocalization is a highly conserved innate behavior in vertebrates. It is mainly used in social encounters to communicate a variety of information for inter- and intra- specific interactions. In this review, we focus on the anatomical, biomechanics and neuronal circuits underlying vocalization across vertebrate species. In addition, we discuss our recent findings that assign to the nucleus of the solitary tract a critical role in innate vocalization. This brain center receives viscerosensory information, i.e. information from internal organs that includes the lungs and the larynx. Furthermore, subpopulations of neurons in the nucleus of the solitary tract directly connect to and entrain the activity of expiratory and laryngeal motor neurons. In mammals and amphibians, these motor neurons control essential biomechanical parameters used for vocalization, and similar motor neuron pools regulate vocal utterances in birds. Thus vocalization relies on a conserved neuronal circuit residing in the brainstem and spinal cord.