Background: Like human infants, songbirds learn their species-specific vocalizations through imitation learning. The birdsong system has emerged as a widely used experimental animal model for understanding the underlying neural mechanisms responsible for vocal production learning. However, how neural impulses are translated into the precise motor behavior of the complex vocal organ (syrinx) to create song is poorly understood. First and foremost, we lack a detailed understanding of syringeal morphology. Results: To fill this gap we combined non-invasive (high-field magnetic resonance imaging and micro-computed tomography) and invasive techniques (histology and micro-dissection) to construct the annotated high-resolution three-dimensional dataset, or morphome, of the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) syrinx. We identified and annotated syringeal cartilage, bone and musculature in situ in unprecedented detail. We provide interactive three-dimensional models that greatly improve the communication of complex morphological data and our understanding of syringeal function in general. Conclusions: Our results show that the syringeal skeleton is optimized for low weight driven by physiological constraints on song production. The present refinement of muscle organization and identity elucidates how apposed muscles actuate different syringeal elements. Our dataset allows for more precise predictions about muscle co-activation and synergies and has important implications for muscle activity and stimulation experiments. We also demonstrate how the syrinx can be stabilized during song to reduce mechanical noise and, as such, enhance repetitive execution of stereotypic motor patterns. In addition, we identify a cartilaginous structure suited to play a crucial role in the uncoupling of sound frequency and amplitude control, which permits a novel explanation of the evolutionary success of songbirds.
B M C Biology, 2013, Vol 11
BIRD SONG SUPERFAST MUSCLES SOUND GENERATION HUMAN SPEECH FREQUENCY-MODULATION MOLECULAR-STRUCTURES GALLUS-GALLUS AVIAN SYRINX MECHANISMS VOCALIZATIONS