Neural pathways for bilateral vocal control in songbirds

J. Martin Wild, Matthew N. Williams, Roderick A. Suthers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

54 Scopus citations


Ipsilateral and contralateral projections of nucleus robustus archistriatalis (RA), a telencephalic vocal premotor nucleus, to respiratory- vocal nuclei in the brainstem were defined in adult male Wasserschlager canaries, grey catbirds, and zebra finches, three songbird species that appear to differ in the degree of lateralized syringeal dominance. In all three species, ipsilateral projections of RA to the medulla included the tracheosyringeal part of the hypoglossal nucleus (XIIts), that innervates the syrinx, the bird's vocal organ, the suprahypoglossal area (SH), and two respiratory-related nuclei, retroambigualis (RAm) and parambigualis (PAm; Reinke and Wild [1998] J Comp Neurol 391:147-163). Projections of RA to the contralateral XIIts, SH and RAm, were substantial in canaries, which use the left side of the syrinx predominantly during singing; less pronounced in catbirds, which have no lateral dominance for song control; and least pronounced in zebra finches, in which there is a right-sided dominance for song control. There were no obvious differences in the number of crossed projections in birds injected in the left or right RA. Local sources of inputs to XIIts and RAm were defined anatomically in zebra finches and canaries. RAm, including neurons in close proximity to XIIts, was found to project to XIIts and the suprahypoglossal area bilaterally but predominantly ipsilaterally. RAm also had reciprocal connections with its contralateral homologue. These results suggest a pattern of connections between premotor and motor respiratory-vocal nuclei that may be involved in bilateral control of vocal output at medullary levels, a control that involves a high degree of coordination between vocal and respiratory structures on both sides of the body. (C) 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)413-426
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 31 2000


  • Canary
  • Catbird
  • Nucleus retroambigualis
  • Nucleus robustus
  • Zebra finch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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