Florida State University

Dr. Frank Johnson is currently accepting new graduate students.


Dr. Frank Johnson

Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience

PDB B341


If you were to read this sentence aloud, you would utter a precise, ordered sequence of over 50 distinct vocal elements in less than 10 seconds. How does the brain learn and store the individual elements of speech, and how does the brain order the production of these elements on such a rapid (millisecond) time scale? We approach these questions using a model organism – the zebra finch – that learns to produce a complex sequence of vocal elements – birdsong. Our approach is interdisciplinary and combines expertise in behavior and neuroanatomy (Dr. Frank Johnson), electrophysiology (Dr. Rick Hyson), biophysical mathematical modeling of neurons and circuits (Dr. Richard Bertram), and statistics (Dr. Wei Wu).
Current Research
Our working hypothesis is that the brain learns and encodes zebra finch songs in parallel, with distinct neural populations encoding 1) the sequence of song syllables and 2) the song syllables themselves. We focus on a region of premotor cortex that drives the avian analogue of human laryngeal motor cortex. Quantification and mathematical modeling of the intrinsic physiology and network connectivity of participating neural populations are being used to understand how the brain brings temporal order to a set of elemental vocal gestures (song syllables) to form a purposeful sequence (the song).
Recent Publications
Elliott KC, Wu W, Bertram R, Hyson RL, Johnson F, Orthogonal topography in the parallel input architecture of songbird HVC, J Comp Neurol., 2017 PubMed
Galvis D, Wu W, Hyson RL, Johnson F, Bertram R, A distributed neural network model for the distinct roles of medial and lateral HVC in zebra finch song production, J Neurophysiol, 2017 PubMed
Basista MJ, Elliott KC, Wu W, Hyson RL, Bertram R, Johnson F, Independent premotor encoding of the sequence and structure of birdsong in avian cortex, J Neurosci, 2014 PubMed
Elliott KC, Wu W, Bertram R, Johnson F, Disconnection of a basal ganglia circuit in juvenile songbirds attenuates the spectral differentiation of song syllables, Dev Neurobiol, 2014 PubMed
Bertram R, Daou A, Hyson RL, Johnson F, Wu W, Two neural streams, one voice: Pathways for theme and variation in the songbird brain, Neuroscience, 2014 PubMed
Daou A, Ross MT, Johnson F, Hyson RL, Bertram R, Electrophysiological characterization and computational models of HVC neurons in the zebra finch, J Neurophysiol, 2013 PubMed
Stauffer TR, Elliott KC, Ross MT, Basista MJ, Hyson RL, Johnson F, Axial organization of a brain region that sequences a learned pattern of behavior, J Neurosci, 2012 PubMed
Thompson JA, Basista MJ, Wu W, Bertram R, Johnson F, Dual pre-motor contribution to songbird syllable variation, J Neurosci, 2011 PubMed
Thompson JA, Johnson F, HVC microlesions do not destabilize the vocal patterns of adult male zebra finches with prior ablation of LMAN, Dev Neurobiol, 2007 PubMed
Thompson JA, Wu W, Bertram R, Johnson F., Auditory-dependent vocal recovery in adult male zebra finches is facilitated by lesion of a forebrain pathway that includes the basal ganglia., J Neurosci, 2007 PubMed
Johnson F, Whitney O, Singing-driven gene expression in the developing songbird brain, Physiol Behav, 2005 PubMed
Whitney O, Johnson F, Motor-induced transcription but sensory-regulated translation of ZENK in socially interactive songbirds, J Neurobiol, 2005 PubMed

All Publications PubMed

Lab Website

Neuro Grads and Postdocs

Derrick Shaughnessy, Graduate Student

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