Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is a primary focal dystonia characterized by involuntary spasms in the laryngeal muscles during speech production. Although recent studies have found abnormal brain function and white matter organization in SD, the extent of gray matter alterations, their structure-function relationships, and correlations with symptoms remain unknown. We compared gray matter volume (GMV) and cortical thickness (CT) in 40 SD patients and 40 controls using voxel-based morphometry and cortical distance estimates. These measures were examined for relationships with blood oxygen level-dependent signal change during symptomatic syllable production in 15 of the same patients. SD patients had increased GMV, CT, and brain activation in key structures of the speech control system, including the laryngeal sensorimotor cortex, inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), superior/middle temporal and supramarginal gyri, and in a structure commonly abnormal in other primary dystonias, the cerebellum. Among these regions, GMV, CT and activation of the IFG and cerebellum showed positive relationships with SD severity, while CT of the IFG correlated with SD duration. The left anterior insula was the only region with decreased CT, which also correlated with SD symptom severity. These findings provide evidence for coupling between structural and functional abnormalities at different levels within the speech production system in SD.
Somatosensory feedback from the larynx plays a critical role in regulation of normal upper airway functions, such as breathing, deglutition, and voice production, while altered laryngeal sensory feedback is known to elicit a variety of pathological reflex responses, including persistent coughing, dysphonia, and laryngospasm. Despite its clinical impact, the central mechanisms underlying the development of pathological laryngeal responses remain poorly understood. We examined the effects of persistent vocal fold (VF) inflammation and trauma, as frequent causes of long-lasting modulation of laryngeal sensory feedback, on brainstem immunoreactivity in the rat. Combined VF inflammation and trauma were induced by injection of lipopolysaccharide (LPS) solution and compared to VF trauma alone from injection of vehicle solution and to controls without any VF manipulations. Using a c-fos marker, we found significantly increased Fos-like immunoreactivity (FLI) in the bilateral intermediate/parvicellular reticular formation (IRF/PCRF) with a trend in the left solitary tract nucleus (NTS) only in animals with combined LPS-induced VF inflammation and trauma. Further, FLI in the right NTS was significantly correlated with the severity of LPS-induced VF changes. However, increased brainstem FLI response was not associated with FLI changes in the first-order neurons of the laryngeal afferents located in the nodose and jugular ganglia in either group. Our data indicate that complex VF alterations (i.e., inflammation/trauma vs. trauma alone) may cause prolonged excitability of the brainstem nuclei receiving a direct sensory input from the larynx, which, in turn, may lead to (mal)plastic changes within the laryngeal central sensory control.
To understand the neural basis of human speech control, extensive research has been done using a variety of methodologies in a range of experimental models. Nevertheless, several critical questions about learned vocal motor control still remain open. One of them is the mechanism(s) by which neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, modulate speech and song production. In this review, we bring together the two fields of investigations of dopamine action on voice control in humans and songbirds, who share similar behavioral and neural mechanisms for speech and song production. While human studies investigating the role of dopamine in speech control are limited to reports in neurological patients, research on dopaminergic modulation of bird song control has recently expanded our views on how this system might be organized. We discuss the parallels between bird song and human speech from the perspective of dopaminergic control as well as outline important differences between these species.