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Bats possess the anatomical substrate for a laryngeal motor cortex

Nevue, A;Mello, C;Portfors, C;

Cortical neurons that make direct connections to motor neurons in the brainstem and spinal cord are specialized for fine motor control and learning [1, 2]. Imitative vocal learning, the basis for human speech, requires the precise control of the larynx muscles [3]. While much knowledge on vocal learning systems has been gained from studying songbirds [4], an accessible laboratory model for mammalian vocal learning is highly desirable. Evidence indicative of complex vocal repertoires and dialects suggests that bats are vocal learners [5, 6], however the circuitry that underlies vocal control and learning in bats is largely unknown. A key feature of vocal learning animals is a direct cortical projection to the brainstem motor neurons that innervate the vocal organ [7]. A recent study [8] described a direct connection from the primary motor cortex to medullary nucleus ambiguus in the Egyptian fruit bat (Rousettus aegyptiacus). Here we show that a distantly related bat, Sebas short-tailed bat (Carollia perspicillata) also possesses a direct projection from the primary motor cortex to nucleus ambiguus. Our results, in combination with Wirthlin et al. [8], suggest that multiple bat lineages possess the anatomical substrate for cortical control of vocal output. We propose that bats would be an informative mammalian model for vocal learning studies to better understand the genetics and circuitry involved in human vocal communication.