Understanding pup affective state through ethologically significant ultrasonic vocalization frequency

Sci Rep. 2017 Oct 18;7(1):13483. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-13518-6.


Throughout life, rats emit ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) when confronted with an aversive situation. However, the conditions classically used to elicit USV vary greatly with the animal's age (isolation from the dam in infancy, versus nociceptive stimulation in adults). The present study is the first to characterize USV responses to the same aversive event throughout development. Specifically, infant, juvenile and adult rats were presented with mild foot-shocks and their USV frequency, duration, and relationship with respiration and behavior were compared. In juvenile and adult rats, a single class of USV is observed with an age-dependent main frequency and duration (30 kHz/400 ms in juveniles, 22 kHz/900 ms in adults). In contrast, infant rat USV were split into two classes with specific relationships with respiration and behavior: 40 kHz/300 ms and 66 kHz/21 ms. Next, we questioned if these infant USV were also emitted in a more naturalistic context by exposing pups to interactions with the mother treating them roughly. This treatment enhanced 40-kHz USV while leaving 66-kHz USV unchanged suggesting that the use of USV goes far beyond a signal studied in terms of amount of emission, and can inform us about some aspects of the infant's affective state.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Social Behavior
  • Ultrasonic Waves*
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology*