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PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e26822. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026822. Epub 2011 Nov 2.

Neurons controlling voluntary vocalization in the macaque ventral premotor cortex.

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Dipartimento di Neuroscienze, Università di Parma, Parma, Italy.


The voluntary control of phonation is a crucial achievement in the evolution of speech. In humans, ventral premotor cortex (PMv) and Broca's area are known to be involved in voluntary phonation. In contrast, no neurophysiological data are available about the role of the oro-facial sector of nonhuman primates PMv in this function. In order to address this issue, we recorded PMv neurons from two monkeys trained to emit coo-calls. Results showed that a population of motor neurons specifically fire during vocalization. About two thirds of them discharged before sound onset, while the remaining were time-locked with it. The response of vocalization-selective neurons was present only during conditioned (voluntary) but not spontaneous (emotional) sound emission. These data suggest that the control of vocal production exerted by PMv neurons constitutes a newly emerging property in the monkey lineage, shedding light on the evolution of phonation-based communication from a nonhuman primate species.

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