Translational analysis of effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on human infant cries and rat pup ultrasonic vocalizations

PLoS One. 2014 Oct 22;9(10):e110349. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110349. eCollection 2014.


Spectral and temporal features of human infant crying may detect neurobehavioral effects of prenatal cocaine exposure (PCE). Finding comparable measures of rodent ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) would promote translational analyses by controlling the effects of correlated variables that confound human studies. To this end, two studies examined the sensitivity of similar acoustic structures in human infant and rat pup vocalizations to effects of PCE. In Study 1, cry sounds of 107 one month-old infants were spectrum analyzed to create a novel set of measures and to detect the presence of hyperphonation - a qualitative shift to an atypically high fundamental frequency (basic pitch) associated with neurobehavioral insult. Infants with PCE were compared to infants with prenatal polydrug-exposure (PPE) without cocaine and with infants in a standard comparison (SC) group with no prenatal drug exposure. In Study 2, USVs of 118 five day-old rat pups with either PCE, prenatal saline exposure or no prenatal exposures were spectrum analyzed to detect the presence of frequency shifts - acoustic features that have a frequency waveform similar to that of hyperphonation. Results of study 1 showed PCE had two sets of sex-dependent effects on human infants: PCE males had higher pitched cries with more dysphonation (turbulence); PCE females had longer pauses between fewer cry sounds that were of lower amplitude than comparison groups. PCE and PPE infants had more cries with hyperphonation than SC infants. In study 2, PCE pups had a greater percentage of USVs with shift in the acoustic structure than pups in the two control groups. As such, the novel measures of human infant crying and rat pup USVs were sensitive to effects of PCE. These studies provide the first known translational analysis of similar acoustic structures of vocalizations in two species to detect adverse effects of prenatal drug exposure.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cocaine / adverse effects*
  • Crying / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / diagnosis*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Sex Factors
  • Sound*
  • Ultrasonics
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*


  • Cocaine