Vocalization frequency and duration are coded in separate hindbrain nuclei

Nat Commun. 2011 Jun 14;2:346. doi: 10.1038/ncomms1349.


Temporal patterning is an essential feature of neural networks producing precisely timed behaviours such as vocalizations that are widely used in vertebrate social communication. Here we show that intrinsic and network properties of separate hindbrain neuronal populations encode the natural call attributes of frequency and duration in vocal fish. Intracellular structure/function analyses indicate that call duration is encoded by a sustained membrane depolarization in vocal prepacemaker neurons that innervate downstream pacemaker neurons. Pacemaker neurons, in turn, encode call frequency by rhythmic, ultrafast oscillations in their membrane potential. Pharmacological manipulations show prepacemaker activity to be independent of pacemaker function, thus accounting for natural variation in duration which is the predominant feature distinguishing call types. Prepacemaker neurons also innervate key hindbrain auditory nuclei thereby effectively serving as a call-duration corollary discharge. We propose that premotor compartmentalization of neurons coding distinct acoustic attributes is a fundamental trait of hindbrain vocal pattern generators among vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Batrachoidiformes / physiology*
  • California
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Lidocaine
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Nerve Net*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rhombencephalon / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Lidocaine