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In Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience

Social animals tend to possess an elaborate vocal communication repertoire, and rats are no exception. Rats utilize ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) to communicate information about a wide range of socially relevant cues, as well as information regarding the valence of the behavior and/or surrounding environment. Both quantitative and qualitative acoustic properties of these USVs are thought to communicate context-specific information to conspecifics. Rat USVs have been broadly categorized into 22 and 50 kHz call categories, which can be further classified into subtypes based on their sonographic features. Recent research indicates that the 50 kHz calls and their various subtype profiles may be related to the processing of social and non-social rewards. However, only a handful of studies have investigated USV elicitation in the context of both social and non-social rewards. Here, we employ a novel behavioral paradigm, the social-sucrose preference test, that allowed us to measure rats' vocal responses to both non-social (i.e., 2, 5, and 10% sucrose) and social reward (interact with a Juvenile rat), presented concurrently. We analyzed adult male Long-Evans rats' vocal responses toward social and non-social rewards, with a specific focus on 50 kHz calls and their 14 subtypes. We demonstrate that rats' preference and their vocal responses toward a social reward were both influenced by the concentration of the non-social reward in the maze. In other words, rats showed a trade-off between time spent with non-social or social stimuli along with increasing concentrations of sucrose, and also, we found a clear difference in the emission of flat and frequency-modulated calls in the social and non-social reward zones. Furthermore, we report that the proportion of individual subtypes of 50 kHz calls, as well as the total USV counts, showed variation across different types of rewards as well. Our findings provide a thorough overview of rat vocal responses toward non-social and social rewards and are a clear depiction of the variability in the rat vocalization repertoire, establishing the role of call subtypes as key players driving context-specific vocal responses of rats.

Seidisarouei Mohammad, van Gurp Sander, Pranic Nicole Melisa, Calabus Irina Noguer, van Wingerden Marijn, Kalenscher Tobias


50 kHz calls, behavior, rats, reward processing, social, subtypes, ultrasonic vocalizations, vocal communications