Rats selectively bred for low levels of 50 kHz ultrasonic vocalizations exhibit alterations in early social motivation

K. M. Harmon, H. C. Cromwell*, J. Burgdorf, J. R. Moskal, S. M. Brudzynski, R. A. Kroes, J. Panksepp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


In rats, the rates of 50 kHz ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) can be used as a selective breeding phenotype and variations in this phenotype can be an indicator of affective states. The 50 kHz USV is elicited by rewarding stimuli (e.g., food, sexual behavior) and therefore can express a positive affective state. Conversely, the 22 kHz USV is elicited by aversive stimuli (e.g., presence of a predator, social defeat) indicating a negative affective state. In the present study, we tested the effect of selectively breeding for 50 kHz USVs on a variety of maternal social/emotional behaviors in young rat pups (PND 10-12). These measures consisted of an assessment of isolation calls and conditioned odor preference paradigm. Results indicate that animals selected for low levels of 50 kHz USVs show the greatest alterations in social behaviors compared to the control animals. The low line animals had an increase in isolation calls tested during place preference conditioning and a decrease in 50 kHz ultrasonic calls in all conditions. These same low line animals failed to show a typical preference for a maternally-associated odor during the place preference test. The different social behaviors of the high line animals did not consistently vary from those of the control group. These results have important implications for the study of genetic and epigenetic mechanisms underlying emotional states, and possibly contribute to the research underlying the emotional changes in developmental disorders such as autistic spectrum disorder by providing a novel animal model that displays communication deficits that are interdependent with significant social behavioral impairments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)322-331
Number of pages10
JournalDevelopmental Psychobiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 2008


  • Attachment
  • Conditioning
  • Emotion
  • Reward
  • Vocalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Developmental Biology


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