Maternal care, isolation-induced infant ultrasonic calling, and their relations to adult anxiety-related behavior in the rat

Behav Neurosci. 2008 Apr;122(2):310-30. doi: 10.1037/0735-7044.122.2.310.


In the rat, variations in maternal care affect the development of stable individual differences in anxiety-related behavior. Here, it was asked whether such experience-dependent differences can be detected already during early life. As a measure for anxiety in pups, isolation-induced ultrasonic vocalizations were used, and their dependency on different maternal behaviors, namely licking, retrieval behavior, and responsiveness to playback of pup calls, was tested. Consistent with reported differences of adult rats with high or low levels of maternal care experienced, the rarely licked offspring appeared to be more anxious, since they emitted more calls when separated from their mother and litter. Based on these findings, it was examined whether infant calling can be used as a predictor of adult anxiety-related behavior. Results show that infant call emission was negatively correlated with immobility and calling during fear conditioning. These relationships seem to be mediated at least partly by maternal care. In total, measuring ultrasonic vocalizations can provide information about an affective trait of infant and adult rats, which gives the opportunity to study the development of emotionality from early life onward.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Fear / physiology
  • Fear / psychology
  • Female
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Maternal Behavior*
  • Maternal Deprivation*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Social Isolation / psychology*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Ultrasonics
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*