A feedforward inhibitory premotor circuit for auditory–vocal interactions in zebra finches

Philipp Norton, Jonathan Benichov, Margarida Pexirra, Susanne Schreiber, Daniela Vallentin

During vocal exchanges, hearing specific auditory signals can provoke vocal responses or suppress vocalizations to avoid interference. These abilities result in the widespread phenomenon of vocal turn taking, yet little is known about the neural circuitry that regulates the input-dependent timing of vocal replies. Previous work in vocally interacting zebra finches has highlighted the importance of premotor inhibition for precisely timed vocal output. By developing physiologically constrained mathematical models, we derived circuit mechanisms based on feedforward inhibition that enable both the temporal modulation of vocal premotor drive as well as auditory suppression of vocalization during listening. Extracellular recordings in HVC during the listening phase confirmed the presence of auditory-evoked response patterns in putative inhibitory interneurons, along with corresponding signatures of auditory-evoked activity suppression. Further, intracellular recordings of identified neurons projecting to HVC from the upstream sensorimotor nucleus, nucleus interfacialis (NIf), shed light on the timing of auditory inputs to this network. The analysis of incrementally time-lagged interactions between auditory and premotor activity in the model resulted in the prediction of a window of auditory suppression, which could be, in turn, verified in behavioral data. A phasic feedforward inhibition model consistently explained the experimental results. This mechanism highlights a parsimonious and generalizable principle for how different driving inputs (vocal and auditory related) can be integrated in a single sensorimotor circuit to regulate two opposing vocal behavioral outcomes: the controlled timing of vocal output or the suppression of overlapping vocalizations.

PNAS. 119(23):e211844811 (2022)


electrophysiologyHVCmathematical modelingsensorimotor integrationsongbirds
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