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Behav Brain Res. 2007 Dec 28;185(2):69-75. Epub 2007 Jul 17.

Are rats predisposed to learn 22 kHz calls as danger-predicting signals?

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Animal Physiology, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 28, D-72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Alarm calls are widely used in mammals. Their biological function is to deter predators and warn relatives of danger. Despite this important function of alarm calls, the development of alarm call recognition is poorly understood. Using laboratory rats, the present study investigated in a first experiment whether alarm calls are recognized innately. In experimentally naive animals, we found significantly increased freezing if stimuli in the 22 kHz range were presented but this response was not specific to conspecific 22 kHz calls. Therefore, a second experiment addressed the hypothesis whether recognition of conspecific 22 kHz calls can be learned and whether this learning is facilitated by a preparedness to acquire defensive responses to alarm calls. Our data show that rats learned quickly to associate the 22 kHz calls with aversive stimuli. Interestingly, the animals were more reluctant to extinguish this memory, and this information retained longer in memory than in the case of other types of calls and ultrasonic stimuli. We, therefore, conclude that rats are predisposed to acquire adaptive defensive behaviour in response to alarm calls. In particular, our data indicate that better encoding of such learning in rats leads to a stable memory which better resists extinction.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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