Mice do not require auditory input for the normal development of their ultrasonic vocalizations
1 Cognitive Ethology Lab, German Primate Center, Kellnerweg 4, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
2 Molecular Biology of Cochlear Neurotransmission Group, University Medical Center Göttingen, Robert-Koch-Str. 40, 37099 Göttingen, Germany
3 Department of Otolaryngology, Auditory Systems Physiology Group, University Medical Center Göttingen, Robert-Koch-Str. 40, 37099 Göttingen, Germany
4 Courant Research Centre 'Evolution of Social Behaviour', University of Göttingen, Kellnerweg 6, 37077 Göttingen, Germany
BMC Neuroscience 2012, 13:40 doi:10.1186/1471-2202-13-40Published: 25 April 2012
Transgenic mice have become an important tool to elucidate the genetic foundation of the human language faculty. While learning is an essential prerequisite for the acquisition of human speech, it is still a matter of debate whether auditory learning plays any role in the development of species-specific vocalizations in mice. To study the influence of auditory input on call development, we compared the occurrence and structure of ultrasonic vocalizations from deaf otoferlin-knockout mice, a model for human deafness DFNB9, to those of hearing wild-type and heterozygous littermates.
We found that the occurrence and structure of ultrasonic vocalizations recorded from deaf otoferlin-knockout mice and hearing wild-type and heterozygous littermates do not differ. Isolation calls from 16 deaf and 15 hearing pups show the same ontogenetic development in terms of the usage and structure of their vocalizations as their hearing conspecifics. Similarly, adult courtship 'songs' produced by 12 deaf and 16 hearing males did not differ in the latency to call, rhythm of calling or acoustic structure.
The results indicate that auditory experience is not a prerequisite for the development of species-specific vocalizations in mice. Thus, mouse models are of only limited suitability to study the evolution of vocal learning, a crucial component in the development of human speech. Nevertheless, ultrasonic vocalizations of mice constitute a valuable readout in studies of the genetic foundations of social and communicative behavior.