New research published by the Neuronal Mechanism for Critical Period Unit at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) in Okinawa, Japan, together with collarborators, has shown the effectiveness of chemogenetic inhibition used to suppress neuronal activity, as well as interesting results on how vocalization can be controlled through this technique’s application in zebra finches. The research conducted by Professor Yoko Yazaki-Sugiyama and Dr. Shin Yanagihara of the OIST was done in collaboration with scientists from the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine at Tsukuba University and the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard University and shows that different areas of the brain govern unique aspects of vocalization. The results were pubished in the January 2015 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. The research showed that by silencing neurons in the arcopallium, a region in the brain known to be responsible for song generation, zebra finch songs would become erratic and incomplete. Previous studies that used micro lesions on this area of the brain showed a diminished ability to sing almost all components of a song. The chemogenetic inhibition method revealed, however, that the song was only diminished at specific parts, with only some syllables being affected or absent. The syllables affected differed from bird to bird, however the order of syllables did not change. This suggests that the portion of the brain studied, the arcopallium, is in control of the composition of acoustic structure of songs and not their order or timing. It also demonstrated how precise this neuronal suppression method can be in determining the function of very small groups of neurons.
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