Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Singing in Slow Motion

14.11.2008
As anyone who watched the Olympics can appreciate, timing matters when it comes to complex sequential actions. It can make a difference between a perfect handspring and a fall, for instance. But what controls that timing? MIT scientists are closing in on the brain regions responsible, thanks to some technical advances and some help from songbirds.

“All our movements, from talking and walking to acrobatics or piano playing, are sequential behaviors,” explained Michale Fee, an investigator in the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT and an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. “But we haven’t had the necessary tools to understand how timing is generated within the brain.”

Now Fee and colleagues report in the Nov. 13 issue of Nature a new method for altering the speed of brain activity. And using that technique, “we think we have found the clock that controls the timing of the bird’s song,” Fee said.

The zebra finch’s song is widely studied as a model for understanding how the brain produces complex behavior sequences. Each song lasts about one second, and contains multiple syllables in a highly stereotypic sequence. Two brain regions — the High Vocal Center (HVC) and the robust nucleus of the arcopallium (RA) — are known to be important for singing, because deactivating either region prevents song production. But uncovering the clock mechanism required a more subtle method.

Accordingly, Fee’s group devised a technique to slow down different parts of the brain. They took advantage of the fact that all biological processes are influenced by temperature. Just as molasses run slower in January, neurons function more slowly when they are cooled down.

The authors constructed a tiny Peltier cooling apparatus based on a device similar to those used in portable electronic beverage coolers. Then they used this device to produce a small cooling effect that could be localized to precise parts of the brain.

“We suspected that cooling different brain regions involved in singing might alter the song in different ways,” explained first author Michael Long, a postdoctoral researcher in the Fee lab.

Cooling the RA brain region had almost no effect on the bird’s song. But cooling HVC produced a dramatic effect. The song slowed in proportion to the degree of cooling, with the biggest temperature change (a 10 degrees Celsius reduction) causing the song to stretch out by around 30 percent.

Not only did the overall duration of the song increase, so did each individual syllable, so the overall rhythmic structure was preserved without changing the sounds within the song. The effect can be compared to a music box or piano roll. Rotating the drum more slowly slows the tempo of the music without affecting individual notes.

Following this analogy, HVC corresponds to the mechanism that turns the drum; cooling it is equivalent to reducing the speed of rotation. RA, which receives timing information from HVC, corresponds to the read-out mechanism that translates the sequence of bumps or holes into a corresponding sequence of notes.

What intrigues Fee and colleagues now is: How does HVC work to control song timing? Their previous electrical recordings of individual HVC neurons suggest it functions like a cascade of falling dominoes, with waves of activity propagating at a fixed speed through the neural circuitry — an idea they are now testing.

“We can also use this cooling technology to discover which brain regions control the timing of different complex behaviors in different animals, something that has been very difficult to assess until now,” Fee said. “We know that HVC is related in some ways to [the] human cortex, so it could be showing us a very general mechanism for representing the passage of time within the brain.”

This study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Human Frontiers Science Project.

About the McGovern Institute at MIT
The McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT is led by a team of world-renowned neuroscientists committed to meeting two great challenges of modern science: understanding how the brain works and discovering new ways to prevent or treat brain disorders. The McGovern Institute was established in 2000 by Patrick J. McGovern and Lore Harp McGovern, who are committed to improving human welfare, communication and understanding through their support for neuroscience research. The director is Robert Desimone, formerly the head of intramural research at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Teresa Herbert | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.mit.edu
http://web.mit.edu/mcgovern/

Further reports about: Brain Brain Research Control HVC Health Science Slow Motion bird’s song effect mechanism sequence singing zebra finch’s

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Nesting aids make agricultural fields attractive for bees
20.07.2017 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

nachricht The Kitchen Sponge – Breeding Ground for Germs
20.07.2017 | Hochschule Furtwangen

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

Leipzig HTP-Forum discusses "hydrothermal processes" as a key technology for a biobased economy

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Researchers create new technique for manipulating polarization of terahertz radiation

20.07.2017 | Information Technology

High-tech sensing illuminates concrete stress testing

20.07.2017 | Materials Sciences

First direct observation and measurement of ultra-fast moving vortices in superconductors

20.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>