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Ultrasonic vocalizations of adult male Foxp2-mutant mice: Behavioral contexts of arousal and emotion

Gaub, S., Fisher, S. E., & Ehret, G. (2016). Ultrasonic vocalizations of adult male Foxp2-mutant mice: Behavioral contexts of arousal and emotion. Genes, Brain and Behavior, 15(2), 243-259. doi:10.1111/gbb.12274.
Adult mouse ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) occur in multiple behavioral and stimulus contexts associated with various levels of arousal, emotion, and social interaction. Here, in three experiments of increasing stimulus intensity (water; female urine; male interacting with adult female), we tested the hypothesis that USVs of adult males express the strength of arousal and emotion via different USV parameters (18 parameters analyzed). Furthermore, we analyzed two mouse lines with heterozygous Foxp2 mutations (R552H missense, S321X nonsense), known to produce severe speech and language disorders in humans. These experiments allowed us to test whether intact Foxp2 function is necessary for developing full adult USV repertoires, and whether mutations of this gene influence instinctive vocal expressions based on arousal and emotion. The results suggest that USV calling rate characterizes the arousal level, while sound pressure and spectro-temporal call complexity (overtones/harmonics, type of frequency jumps) may provide indices of levels of positive emotion. The presence of Foxp2 mutations did not qualitatively affect the USVs; all USV types that were found in wild-type animals also occurred in heterozygous mutants. However, mice with Foxp2 mutations displayed quantitative differences in USVs as compared to wild-types, and these changes were context dependent. Compared to wild-type animals, heterozygous mutants emitted mainly longer and louder USVs at higher minimum frequencies with a higher occurrence rate of overtones/harmonics and complex frequency jump types. We discuss possible hypotheses about Foxp2 influence on emotional vocal expressions, which can be investigated in future experiments using selective knockdown of Foxp2 in specific brain circuits.
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