Breeding for 50-kHz positive affective vocalization in rats

Jeffrey Burgdorf, Jaak Panksepp*, Stefan M. Brudzynski, Roger Kroes, Joseph R. Moskal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Adolescent and adult rats exhibit at least two distinct ultrasonic vocalizations that reflect distinct emotional states. Rats exhibit 22-kHz calls during social defeat, drug withdrawal, as well as in anticipation of aversive events. In contrast, 50-kHz calls are exhibited in high rates during play behavior, mating, as well as in anticipation of rewarding events. The neurochemistry of 22-kHz and 50-kHz calls closely matches that of negative and positive emotional systems in humans, respectively. The aim of this study was to replicate and further evaluate selective breeding for 50-kHz vocalization, in preparation for the analysis of the genetic underpinnings of the 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalization (USV). Isolate housed adolescent rats (23-26 days old) received experimenter administered tactile stimulation (dubbed "tickling"), which mimics rat rough-and-tumble play behavior. This stimulation has previously been shown to elicit high levels of 50-kHz USVs and to be highly rewarding in isolate-housed animals. Each tickling session consisted of four cycles of 15 seconds stimulation followed by 15 seconds no stimulation for a total of 2 minutes, and was repeated once per day across four successive days. Rats were then selected for either High or Low levels of sonographically verified 50-kHz USVs in response to the stimulation, and a randomly selected line served as a control (Random group). Animals emitted both 22-kHz and 50-kHz types of calls. After five generations, animals in the High Line exhibited significantly more 50-kHz and fewer 22-kHz USVs than animals in the Random Line. Animals selected for low levels of 50-kHz calls showed marginally more 22-kHz USVs then randomly selected animals but did not differ in the rate of 50-kHz calls. These results extend our previous findings that laboratory rats could be bred for differential rates of sonographically verified 50-kHz USVs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)67-72
Number of pages6
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2005


  • Emotion
  • Motivation
  • Rats
  • Reward
  • Selective breeding
  • Ultrasonic vocalization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics
  • Genetics(clinical)


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