The Control of Vocal Pitch in Human Laryngeal Motor Cortex

Cell. 2018 Jun 28;174(1):21-31.e9. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2018.05.016.


In speech, the highly flexible modulation of vocal pitch creates intonation patterns that speakers use to convey linguistic meaning. This human ability is unique among primates. Here, we used high-density cortical recordings directly from the human brain to determine the encoding of vocal pitch during natural speech. We found neural populations in bilateral dorsal laryngeal motor cortex (dLMC) that selectively encoded produced pitch but not non-laryngeal articulatory movements. This neural population controlled short pitch accents to express prosodic emphasis on a word in a sentence. Other larynx cortical representations controlling voicing and longer pitch phrase contours were found at separate sites. dLMC sites also encoded vocal pitch during a non-speech singing task. Finally, direct focal stimulation of dLMC evoked laryngeal movements and involuntary vocalization, confirming its causal role in feedforward control. Together, these results reveal the neural basis for the voluntary control of vocal pitch in human speech. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Keywords: cortical stimulation; human cortex; larynx; motor cortex; pitch; singing; speech; vocalization; voicing.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Electrocorticography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Larynx / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Biological
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Speech*
  • Young Adult