Audio–vocal interaction in the pontine brainstem during self-initiated vocalization in the squirrel monkey


Dr Steffen R. Hage, as above.


The adjustment of the voice by auditory input happens at several brain levels. The caudal pontine brainstem, though rarely investigated, is one candidate area for such audio–vocal integration. We recorded neuronal activity in this area in awake, behaving squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) during vocal communication, using telemetric single-unit recording techniques. We found audio–vocal neurons at locations not described before, namely in the periolivary region of the superior olivary complex and the adjacent pontine reticular formation. They showed various responses to external sounds (noise bursts) and activity increases (excitation) or decreases (inhibition) to self-produced vocalizations, starting prior to vocal onset and continuing through vocalizations. In most of them, the responses to noise bursts and self-produced vocalizations were similar, with the only difference that neuronal activity started prior to vocal onset. About one-third responded phasically to noise bursts, independent of whether they increased or decreased their activity to vocalization. The activity of most audio–vocal neurons correlated with basic acoustic features of the vocalization, such as call duration and/or syllable structure. Auditory neurons near audio–vocal neurons showed significantly more frequent phasic response patterns than those in areas without audio–vocal activity. Based on these findings, we propose that audio–vocal neurons showing similar activity to external acoustical stimuli and vocalization play a role in olivocochlear regulation. Specifically, audio–vocal neurons with a phasic response to external auditory stimuli are candidates for the mediation of basal audio–vocal reflexes such as the Lombard reflex. Thus, our findings suggest that complex audio–vocal integration mechanisms exist in the ventrolateral pontine brainstem.