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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Temporal vocal features suggest different call-pattern generating mechanisms in mice and bats

Steffen R Hage*, Natalja Gavrilov, Ferdinand Salomon and Anna M Stein

Author affiliations

Animal Physiology, Institute of Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, Auf der Morgenstelle 28, Tübingen, 72076, Germany

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Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2013, 14:99  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-14-99

Published: 10 September 2013

Abstract

Background

Mice produce ultrasonic vocalizations in various inter-individual encounters and with high call rates. However, it is so far virtually unknown how these vocal patterns are generated. On the one hand, these vocal patterns could be embedded into the normal respiratory cycle, as happens in bats and other mammals that produce similar call rates and frequencies. On the other, mice could possess distinct vocal pattern generating systems that are capable of modulating the respiratory cycle, which is what happens in non-human and human primates. In the present study, we investigated the temporal call patterns of two different mammalian species, bats and mice, in order to differentiate between these two possibilities for mouse vocalizations. Our primary focus was on comparing the mechanisms for the production of rapid, successive ultrasound calls of comparable frequency ranges in the two species.

Results

We analyzed the temporal call pattern characteristics of mice, and we compared these characteristics to those of ultrasonic echolocation calls produced by horseshoe bats. We measured the distributions of call durations, call intervals, and inter-call intervals in the two species. In the bat, and consistent with previous studies, we found that call duration was independent of corresponding call intervals, and that it was negatively correlated with the corresponding inter-call interval. This indicates that echolocation call production mechanisms in the bat are highly correlated with the respiratory cycle. In contrast, call intervals in the mouse were directly correlated with call duration. Importantly, call duration was not, or was only slightly, correlated with inter-call intervals, consistent with the idea that vocal production in the mouse is largely independent of the respiratory cycle.

Conclusions

Our findings suggest that ultrasonic vocalizations in mice are produced by call-pattern generating mechanisms that seem to be similar to those that have been found in primates. This is in contrast to the production mechanisms of ultrasonic echolocation calls in horseshoe bats. These results are particularly interesting, especially since mouse vocalizations have recently attracted increased attention as potential indicators for the degree of progression of several disease patterns in mouse models for neurodegenerative and neurodevelopmental disorders of humans.

Keywords:
Acoustic communication; Bat; Mammal; Mice; Mouse model; Vocal pattern generation