Neurobiology of 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations in rats: Electrode mapping, lesion, and pharmacology studies

Jeffrey Burgdorf*, Paul L. Wood, Roger A. Kroes, Joseph R. Moskal, Jaak Panksepp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

269 Scopus citations


Fifty-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations have been proposed to reflect a positive appetitive affective state in rats, being consistently linked to the positive appetitive behavior. In the first study, we examined the brain substrates of 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) by using localized electrical stimulation of the brain (ESB) at various sites that are known to mediate reward. We found that the brain areas that produced ESB-induced 50-kHz calls are the areas that have previously been shown to support the most vigorous self-stimulation behavior (prefrontal cortex, nucleus accumbens, ventral pallidum, lateral preoptic area, lateral hypothalamus, ventral tegmental area, and raphe). Importantly, all animals that showed repeatable ESB-induced 50-kHz USVs demonstrated self-stimulation behavior. In the second study, conditioned place preference was assessed following microinjection of the μ-opiate agonist Tyr-d-Ala-Gly-N-methyl-Phe-Gly-ol (DAMGO) directly into the ventral tegmental area (VTA) at a dose previously found to be rewarding. Animals that showed more 50-kHz USVs in response to drug injections compared to vehicle injections showed significant place preferences, whereas animals that did not show elevated vocalization to DAMGO did not show place preference. In experiment 3, we examined the effect of VTA electrolytic lesions, 6-OHDA lesions, and the effect of the D1/D2 dopamine antagonist flupenthixol (0 and 0.8 mg/kg, i.p.) on 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations. We found that these manipulations all selectively reduced 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations, and that these effects could be disassociated from any side effects. These data are consistent with the proposition that 50-kHz calls are tightly linked to reward in rats and that the neural circuit of 50-kHz calls closely overlaps that of ESB self-stimulation reward, drug reward, and the mesolimbic dopamine system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)274-283
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 4 2007


  • Dopamine
  • Electrical stimulation of the brain
  • Emotion
  • Rats
  • Reward
  • Ultrasonic vocalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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