Bending Time: Decoding Tempo Adaptation in Neural Circuits

Bending Time: Decoding Tempo Adaptation in Neural Circuits


Summary: A new study unveiled a key mechanism in how the brain adapts to varying tempos in life.

Using Alston’s singing mouse, known for its variable vocalizations, the research team explored the orofacial motor cortex’s role in regulating song tempo. Their findings revealed a process called ‘temporal scaling,’ where neurons adjust the timing intervals, offering insights into the brain’s flexibility in vocal communication and behavior.

This discovery paves the way for understanding how our brains enable diverse interactions with the world, with vast implications for technology, education, and therapy.

Key Facts:

  1. The research focused on how the orofacial motor cortex in Alston’s singing mice adjusts the tempo of their vocalizations.
  2. Neurons in this brain region engage in ‘temporal scaling,’ altering timing intervals instead of tracking absolute time.
  3. This mechanism highlights the brain’s adaptability, potentially impacting various fields from neuroscience to technology.

Source: CSHL

Life has a challenging tempo. Sometimes, it moves faster or slower than we’d like. Nevertheless, we adapt. We pick up the rhythm of conversations. We keep pace with the crowd walking a city sidewalk. 

“There are many instances where we have to do the same action but at different tempos. So the question is, how does the brain do it,” says Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Assistant Professor Arkarup Banerjee. 

Now, Banerjee and collaborators have uncovered a new clue that suggests the brain bends our processing of time to suit our needs. And it’s partly thanks to a noisy critter from Costa Rica named Alston’s singing mouse.

This shows a clock and a brain.
Banerjee and his team looked to determine how neural circuits in the mice’s brains govern their song’s tempo. Credit: Neuroscience News

This special breed is known for its human-audible vocalizations, which last several seconds. One mouse will sing out a longing cry, and another will respond with a tune of its own. Notably, the song varies in length and speed. Banerjee and his team looked to determine how neural circuits in the mice’s brains govern their song’s tempo.

The researchers pretended to engage in duets with the mice while analyzing a region of their brains called the orofacial motor cortex (OMC). They recorded neurons’ activity over many weeks. They then looked for differences among songs with distinct durations and tempos.

They found that OMC neurons engage in a process called temporal scaling. “Instead of encoding absolute time like a clock, the neurons track something like relative time,” Banerjee explains. “They actually slow down or speed up the interval. So, it’s not like one or two seconds, but 10%, 20%.”

The discovery offers new insight into how the brain generates vocal communication. But Banerjee suspects its implications go beyond language or music. It might help explain how time is computed in other parts of the brain, allowing us to adjust various behaviors accordingly. And that might tell us more about how our beautifully complex brains work. 

“It’s this three-pound block of flesh that allows you to do everything from reading a book to sending people to the moon,” says Banerjee. 

“It provides us with flexibility. We can change on the fly. We adapt. We learn. If everything was a stimulus-response, with no opportunity for learning, nothing that changes, no long-term goals, we wouldn’t need a brain. We believe the cortex exists to add flexibility to behavior.”

In other words, it helps make us who we are. Banerjee’s discovery may bring science closer to understanding how our brains enable us to interact with the world. The possible implications for technology, education, and therapy are as unlimited as our imagination.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Sara Giarnieri
Source: CSHL
Contact: Sara Giarnieri – CSHL
Image: The image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original Research: Closed access.
Temporal scaling of motor cortical dynamics reveals hierarchical control of vocal production” by Arkarup Banerjee et al. Nature Neuroscience


Temporal scaling of motor cortical dynamics reveals hierarchical control of vocal production

Neocortical activity is thought to mediate voluntary control over vocal production, but the underlying neural mechanisms remain unclear. In a highly vocal rodent, the male Alston’s singing mouse, we investigate neural dynamics in the orofacial motor cortex (OMC), a structure critical for vocal behavior.

We first describe neural activity that is modulated by component notes (~100 ms), probably representing sensory feedback. At longer timescales, however, OMC neurons exhibit diverse and often persistent premotor firing patterns that stretch or compress with song duration (~10 s). Using computational modeling, we demonstrate that such temporal scaling, acting through downstream motor production circuits, can enable vocal flexibility.

These results provide a framework for studying hierarchical control circuits, a common design principle across many natural and artificial systems.


Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top