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J Neurophysiol. 1996 Feb;75(2):867-76.

Role of syringeal muscles in gating airflow and sound production in singing brown thrashers.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Indiana University, Bloomington 47405, USA.


1. The role of syringeal muscles in song production, particularly in regulating airflow through the syrinx, was studied in singing brown thrashers (Toxostoma rufum). In nine individuals, muscle activity was recorded electromyographically together with bilateral syringeal airflow, subsyringeal air sac pressure, and vocal output. 2. Dorsal muscles, m. syringealis dorsalis (dS) and m. tracheolateral dorsalis (dTB), are consistently activated during ipsilateral closing of the syrinx or increasing syringeal resistance, suggesting that their main role is adduction. This interpretation is supported by the motor patterns accompanying syllables with rapid oscillations in the rate of airflow. Bursts of electrical activity (2-10 ms) in dorsal muscles are precisely synchronized with decreasing airflow. 3. Electrical activity in m. tracheobronchialis ventralis (vTB) and m. tracheolateralis (TL) is associated with active abduction. An important contribution of vTB is to open the syringeal lumen for short inspirations in between syllables. In syllables with oscillatory flow modulations, vTB bursts show variable alignment with the phase of increasing flow. From this and activity during other syllables, it appears that, during phonation, vTB activity fine tunes the syringeal configuration, which is set by action of the dorsal muscles into a partially constricted state. 4. Activity in the ventral portion of TL, an extrinsic muscle, is strikingly similar to that of vTB, an intrinsic muscle, suggesting that the two muscles have a similar functional role. This supports the notion that intrinsic syringeal muscles of songbirds evolved from extrinsic muscles of nonpasserines. 5. M. syringealis ventralis (vS) does not appear to contribute directly to gating of airflow. Its activity is not consistently correlated with active changes in syringeal resistance. 6. Activity in m. sternotrachealis (ST) is most prominent during rapid changes in the rate of airflow or when switching between expiratory and inspiratory flow, suggesting a role in stabilizing the syringeal framework.

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