Analysis of Ultrasonic Vocalizations Emitted by Infant Rodents

Igor Branchi1, Daniela Santucci1, Enrico Alleva1

1 Istituto Superiore di Sanitá, Rome
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Toxicology
Unit Number:  Unit 13.12
DOI:  10.1002/0471140856.tx1312s30
Online Posting Date:  December, 2006
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Altricial rodent pups emit ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs), which are whistle‐like sounds with frequencies between 30 and 90 kHz. These signals play an important communicative role in mother‐offspring interaction because they elicit in the dam a prompt response as concerning care‐giving behaviors. To investigate neurobehavioral development, the analysis of the number of USVs presents several advantages: (1) USVs are one of the few responses produced by very young rodents that can be quantitatively analyzed and elicited by quantifiable stimuli; (2) USV emission follows a clear ontogenetic profile from birth to the second to third week of life, thus allowing longitudinal analysis during very early post‐natal ontogeny. The reported role played by several receptor agonists and antagonists in modulating the USV rate makes this measure highly informative in investigating the effects of toxicants and, more generally, psychoactive compounds on the development of selected brain systems.

Keywords: ultrasonic vocalization; infant rodent; care‐giving behavior; neurobehavioral development

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Table of Contents

  • Ultrasonic Vocalization Analysis Instrumentation
  • Basic Protocol 1: Measuring Ultrasonic Vocalizations Produced in an Isolation Test
  • Alternate Protocol 1: Measuring Maternal Potentiation of Ultrasonic Vocalizations
  • Alternate Protocol 2: Adult Male USV Suppression of Ultrasonic Vocalization
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
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Basic Protocol 1: Measuring Ultrasonic Vocalizations Produced in an Isolation Test

  • Dams and litters of 2‐ to 14‐day‐old mice or 2‐ to 18‐day‐old rats (n ∼ 12)
  • 50% ethanol
  • Pad with controlled temperature (20° to 28°C according to the species, strain, and age of pups; Okon, )
  • Sound‐proof room
  • Ultrasound detector with microphone (e.g., Ultrasound Advice or Pettersson Elektronik AB)
  • Videocamera and videorecorder
  • Room thermometer
  • Temperature probe (e.g., BAT‐12 Physitemp Instrument Inc.)
  • Unscented ink marker or tattoo system (e.g., Animal Identification and Marking Systems, Inc.;

Alternate Protocol 1: Measuring Maternal Potentiation of Ultrasonic Vocalizations

  • Empty cage

Alternate Protocol 2: Adult Male USV Suppression of Ultrasonic Vocalization

  • Adult male mouse or rat (or soiled bedding from the cage of an adult male mouse or rat)
  • Empty cage
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Key References
   Sales and Pye, 1974. See above.
  An overview of technical issues on the physics of ultrasound and methods of detection and analysis. Furthermore, this work provides a description of ultrasounds emitted by a number of species, from insects to bats.
   Hofer, 1996. See above.
  An elegant and exhaustive review paper on the role of physical and social stimuli modulating the USV emission.
   Ehret, 2005. See above.
  This review paper provides an exhaustive overview on the communicative role of USVs in the mother‐offspring interaction.
   Winslow and Insel, 1991a. See above.
  A description of USV isolation test an effective strategy to assess the effects of psychoactive compounds on the emotional response.
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