Although evidence from human studies has long indicated the crucial role of the frontal cortex in speech production, it has remained uncertain whether the frontal cortex in nonhuman primates plays a similar role in vocal communication. Previous studies of prefrontal and premotor cortices of macaque monkeys have found neural signals associated with cue- and reward-conditioned vocal production, but not with self-initiated or spontaneous vocalizations (Coudé et al., 2011; Hage and Nieder, 2013), which casts doubt on the role of the frontal cortex of the Old World monkeys in vocal communication. A recent study of marmoset frontal cortex observed modulated neural activities associated with self-initiated vocal production (Miller et al., 2015), but it did not delineate whether these neural activities were specifically attributed to vocal production or if they may result from other nonvocal motor activity such as orofacial motor movement. In the present study, we attempted to resolve these issues and examined single neuron activities in premotor cortex during natural vocal exchanges in the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus), a highly vocal New World primate. Neural activation and suppression were observed both before and during self-initiated vocal production. Furthermore, by comparing neural activities between self-initiated vocal production and nonvocal orofacial motor movement, we identified a subpopulation of neurons in marmoset premotor cortex that was activated or suppressed by vocal production, but not by orofacial movement. These findings provide clear evidence of the premotor cortex’s involvement in self-initiated vocal production in natural vocal behaviors of a New World primate.
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