Neural pathways underlying vocal control

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2002 Mar;26(2):235-58. doi: 10.1016/s0149-7634(01)00068-9.


Vocalization is a complex behaviour pattern, consisting of essentially three components: laryngeal activity, respiratory movements and supralaryngeal (articulatory) activity. The motoneurones controlling this behaviour are located in various nuclei in the pons (trigeminal motor nucleus), medulla (facial nucleus, nucl. ambiguus, hypoglossal nucleus) and ventral horn of the spinal cord (cervical, thoracic and lumbar region). Coordination of the different motoneurone pools is carried out by an extensive network comprising the ventrolateral parabrachial area, lateral pontine reticular formation, anterolateral and caudal medullary reticular formation, and the nucl. retroambiguus. This network has a direct access to the phonatory motoneurone pools and receives proprioceptive input from laryngeal, pulmonary and oral mechanoreceptors via the solitary tract nucleus and principal as well as spinal trigeminal nuclei. The motor-coordinating network needs a facilitatory input from the periaqueductal grey of the midbrain and laterally bordering tegmentum in order to be able to produce vocalizations. Voluntary control of vocalization, in contrast to completely innate vocal reactions, such as pain shrieking, needs the intactness of the forebrain. Voluntary control over the initiation and suppression of vocal utterances is carried out by the mediofrontal cortex (including anterior cingulate gyrus and supplementary as well as pre-supplementary motor area). Voluntary control over the acoustic structure of vocalizations is carried out by the motor cortex via pyramidal/corticobulbar as well as extrapyramidal pathways. The most important extrapyramidal pathway seems to be the connection motor cortex-putamen-substantia nigra-parvocellular reticular formation-phonatory motoneurones. The motor cortex depends upon a number of inputs for fulfilling its task. It needs a cerebellar input via the ventrolateral thalamus for allowing a smooth transition between consecutive vocal elements. It needs a proprioceptive input from the phonatory organs via nucl. ventralis posterior medialis thalami, somatosensory cortex and inferior parietal cortex. It needs an input from the ventral premotor and prefrontal cortex, including Broca's area, for motor planning of longer purposeful utterances. And it needs an input from the supplementary and pre-supplementary motor area which give rise to the motor commands executed by the motor cortex.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways* / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways* / physiology
  • Verbal Behavior / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal* / physiology