The Journal Of Comparative Neurology
During singing in songbirds, the extent of beak opening, like the extent of mouth opening in human singers, is partially correlated with the fundamental frequency of the sounds emitted. Since song in songbirds is under the control of the song system (a collection of interconnected forebrain nuclei dedicated to the learning and production of song), it might be expected that beak movements during singing would also be controlled by this system. However, direct neural connections between the telencephalic output of the song system and beak muscle motor neurons in the brainstem are conspicuous by their absence, leaving unresolved the question of how beak movements are affected during singing. By using standard tract tracing methods, we sought to answer this question by defining beak premotor neurons and examining their afferent projections. In the caudal medulla, jaw premotor cell bodies were located adjacent to the terminal field of the output of the song system, into which many premotor neurons extended their dendrites. The premotor neurons also received a novel input from the trigeminal ganglion and an overlapping input from a lateral arcopallial component of a trigeminal sensorimotor circuit that traverses the forebrain. The ganglionic input in songbirds, which is not present in doves and pigeons that vocalize with a closed beak, may modulate the activity of beak premotor neurons in concert with the output of the song system. These inputs to jaw premotor neurons could, together, affect beak movements as a means of modulating filter properties of the upper vocal tract during singing.