Auditory and audio-vocal responses of single neurons in the monkey ventral premotor cortex

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Abstract

Monkey vocalization is a complex behavioral pattern, which is flexibly used in audio-vocal communication. A recently proposed dual neural network model suggests that cognitive control might be involved in this behavior, originating from a frontal cortical network in the prefrontal cortex and mediated via projections from the rostral portion of the ventral premotor cortex (PMvr) and motor cortex to the primary vocal motor network in the brainstem. For the rapid adjustment of vocal output to external acoustic events, strong interconnections between vocal motor and auditory sites are needed, which are present at cortical and subcortical levels. However, the role of the PMvr in audio-vocal integration processes remains unclear. In the present study, single neurons in the PMvr were recorded in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) while volitionally producing vocalizations in a visual detection task or passively listening to monkey vocalizations. Ten percent of randomly selected neurons in the PMvr modulated their discharge rate in response to acoustic stimulation with species-specific calls. More than four-fifths of these auditory neurons showed an additional modulation of their discharge rates either before and/or during the monkeys' motor production of the vocalization. Based on these audio-vocal interactions, the PMvr might be well positioned to mediate higher order auditory processing with cognitive control of the vocal motor output to the primary vocal motor network. Such audio-vocal integration processes in the premotor cortex might constitute a precursor for the evolution of complex learned audio-vocal integration systems, ultimately giving rise to human speech.

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