High-precision spatial analysis of mouse courtship vocalization behavior reveals sex and strain differences

Sci Rep. 2023 Mar 30;13(1):5219. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-31554-3.


Mice display a wide repertoire of vocalizations that varies with sex, strain, and context. Especially during social interaction, including sexually motivated dyadic interaction, mice emit sequences of ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) of high complexity. As animals of both sexes vocalize, a reliable attribution of USVs to their emitter is essential. The state-of-the-art in sound localization for USVs in 2D allows spatial localization at a resolution of multiple centimeters. However, animals interact at closer ranges, e.g. snout-to-snout. Hence, improved algorithms are required to reliably assign USVs. We present a novel algorithm, SLIM (Sound Localization via Intersecting Manifolds), that achieves a 2-3-fold improvement in accuracy (13.1-14.3 mm) using only 4 microphones and extends to many microphones and localization in 3D. This accuracy allows reliable assignment of 84.3% of all USVs in our dataset. We apply SLIM to courtship interactions between adult C57Bl/6J wildtype mice and those carrying a heterozygous Foxp2 variant (R552H). The improved spatial accuracy reveals that vocalization behavior is dependent on the spatial relation between the interacting mice. Female mice vocalized more in close snout-to-snout interaction while male mice vocalized more when the male snout was in close proximity to the female's ano-genital region. Further, we find that the acoustic properties of the ultrasonic vocalizations (duration, Wiener Entropy, and sound level) are dependent on the spatial relation between the interacting mice as well as on the genotype. In conclusion, the improved attribution of vocalizations to their emitters provides a foundation for better understanding social vocal behaviors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Courtship*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Social Behavior
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Ultrasonics
  • Vocalization, Animal*