Florida State University

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
Bertram R, Hyson RL, Brunick AJ, Flores D, Johnson F (2020). Network dynamics underlie learning and performance of birdsong. Curr Opin Neurobiol, 64:119-126. PubMed
Ross MT, Flores D, Bertram R, Johnson F, Wu W, Hyson RL (2019). Experience-Dependent Intrinsic Plasticity During Auditory Learning. J Neurosci, 39(7):1206-1221. PubMed
Shaughnessy DW, Hyson RL, Bertram R, Wu W, Johnson F (2019). Female zebra finches do not sing yet share neural pathways necessary for singing in males. J Comp Neurol, 527(4):843-855. PubMed
Galvis D, Wu W, Hyson RL, Johnson F, Bertram R (2018). Interhemispheric dominance switching in a neural network model for birdsong. J Neurophysiol, 120(3):1186-1197. PubMed
Elliott KC, Wu W, Bertram R, Hyson RL, Johnson F (2017). Orthogonal topography in the parallel input architecture of songbird HVC. J Comp Neurol, 525(9):2133-2151. PubMed
Galvis D, Wu W, Hyson RL, Johnson F, Bertram R (2017). A distributed neural network model for the distinct roles of medial and lateral HVC in zebra finch song production. J Neurophysiol, 118(2):677-692. PubMed
Ross MT, Flores D, Bertram R, Johnson F, Hyson RL (2017). Neuronal Intrinsic Physiology Changes During Development of a Learned Behavior. eNeuro, 4(5):ENEURO.0297-17.2017. PubMed

All Publications PubMed

Lab Website

Neuro Grads and Postdocs

Derrick Shaughnessy, Graduate Student

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