BTBR T+tf/J (BTBR) is an inbred mouse strain that displays social deficits and repetitive behaviors analogous to the first and third diagnostic symptoms of autism. We previously reported an unusual pattern of ultrasonic vocalizations in BTBR pups that may represent a behavioral homolog to the second diagnostic symptom of autism, impaired communication. This study investigated the social and vocal repertoire in adult BTBR mice, to evaluate the role of ultrasonic vocalizations in multiple social situations at the adult stage of development. Three different social contexts were considered: male-female, male-male (resident-intruder) and female-female interactions. Behavioral responses and ultrasonic vocalizations were recorded for BTBR and for the highly social control strain C57BL/6J (B6). No episodes of overt fighting or mating were observed during the short durations of the three different experimental encounters. BTBR displayed lower levels of vocalizations and social investigation in all three social contexts as compared with B6. In addition, the correlation analyses between social investigation and ultrasonic vocalization emission rate showed that in B6 mice, the two variables were positively correlated in all the three different social settings, whereas in BTBR mice, the positive correlation was significant only in the male-female interactions. These findings strongly support the value of simultaneously recording two aspects of the mouse social repertoire: social motivation and bioacoustic communication. Moreover, our findings in adults are consistent with previous results in pups, showing an unusual vocal repertoire in BTBR as compared with B6.
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