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Genes Brain Behav. 2011 Feb;10(1):4-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-183X.2010.00603.x.

Translating mouse vocalizations: prosody and frequency modulation.

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  • 1Department of Behavioral Neuroscience, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, Oregon 97239-3011, USA.


Mental illness can include impaired abilities to express emotions or respond to the emotions of others. Speech provides a mechanism for expressing emotions, by both what words are spoken and by the melody or intonation of speech (prosody). Through the perception of variations in prosody, an individual can detect changes in another's emotional state. Prosodic features of mouse ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs), indicated by changes in frequency and amplitude, also convey information. Dams retrieve pups that emit separation calls, females approach males emitting solicitous calls, and mice can become fearful of a cue associated with the vocalizations of a distressed conspecific. Because acoustic features of mouse USVs respond to drugs and genetic manipulations that influence reward circuits, USV analysis can be employed to examine how genes influence social motivation, affect regulation, and communication. The purpose of this review is to discuss how genetic and developmental factors influence aspects of the mouse vocal repertoire and how mice respond to the vocalizations of their conspecifics. To generate falsifiable hypotheses about the emotional content of particular calls, this review addresses USV analysis within the framework of affective neuroscience (e.g. measures of motivated behavior such as conditioned place preference tests, brain activity and systemic physiology). Suggested future studies include employment of an expanded array of physiological and statistical approaches to identify the salient acoustic features of mouse vocalizations. We are particularly interested in rearing environments that incorporate sufficient spatial and temporal complexity to familiarize developing mice with a broader array of affective states.

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