New tool for analyzing mouse vocalizations may provide insights for autism modeling

May 8, 2017, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Vocalization plays a significant role in social communication across species such as speech by humans and song by birds. Male mice produce ultrasonic vocalizations in the presence of females and both sexes sing during friendly social encounters. Mice have been genetically well characterized and used extensively for research on autism as well as in other areas, but until now there have been limitations to studying their ultrasonic vocalizations. A team of investigators, led by Pat Levitt, PhD, of The Saban Research Institute of Children's Hospital Los Angeles, have developed and demonstrated a novel signal-processing tool that enables unbiased, data-driven analysis of these sounds. The study was published in the journal Neuron on May 3.

Research into the underlying neurobiological basis and heritable nature of vocalizations in humans and animals has identified promising genes and neural networks involved in vocal production, auditory processing and social communication. "Understanding the complicated vocalizations of —and how they relate to their social behavior—will be crucial to advancing vocal and social communication research, including understanding how genes that affect vocal communication relate to children with developmental disorders including autism," said Levitt, who is also WM Keck Provost Professor in Neurogenetics at the Keck School of Medicine at USC.

The team of investigators developed and demonstrated a signal-processing tool that provides rapid, automated, unsupervised and time/date stamped analysis of the ultrasonic vocalizations of mice. Because of the time and date stamp attached to the vocalizations, the investigators expect that this tool will be useful in correlating vocalizations with video recorded behavioral interactions, allowing additional information to be mined from mouse models relevant to the social deficits experienced by persons with autism.

Social and vocal interactions between mice are shown. Credit: Allison Knoll, PhD, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

According to Allison Knoll, PhD, of CHLA, first co-author on the study, researchers in the field have been aware of and working to interpret the meaning of mouse by categorizing the sounds using a syllable classification system - with discrete sounds defined as syllables. Because there is such a wide variation in the types of ultrasonic vocalizations made by mice, in order to analyze the information researchers have had to develop ways of categorizing and combining sounds they perceived to be similar using manual or semi-automated techniques.

"This tool removes bias by fully automating the processing of vocalizations using signal-processing methods employed in human speech and language analysis," said Knoll. The signal-processing , called Mouse Ultrasonic Profile ExTraction (MUPET), is available through open-access software.

Explore further: Genes for speech may not be limited to humans

More information: Maarten Van Segbroeck et al, MUPET—Mouse Ultrasonic Profile ExTraction: A Signal Processing Tool for Rapid and Unsupervised Analysis of Ultrasonic Vocalizations, Neuron (2017). DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.04.005

Related Stories

Genes for speech may not be limited to humans

November 15, 2016
Our current understanding is that mice have either no—or extremely limited—neural circuitry and genes similar to those that regulate human speech. According to a recent study published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, ...

Recommended for you

Social awareness increases prove brain changing in adults with autism

March 28, 2018
Researchers at the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas, in collaboration with co-leading authors at George Washington University and Yale, have demonstrated in a pilot study that a clinician-driven ...

Autism's social deficits are reversed by an anti-cancer drug

March 12, 2018
Of all the challenges that come with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the social difficulties are among the most devastating. Currently, there is no treatment for this primary symptom of ASD. New research at ...

Scientists link genes to brain anatomy in autism

February 27, 2018
A team of scientists at the University of Cambridge has discovered that specific genes are linked to individual differences in brain anatomy in autistic children.

Blood and urine tests developed to indicate autism in children

February 19, 2018
New tests which can indicate autism in children have been developed by researchers at the University of Warwick.

Autism might be better detected using new two-minute questionnaire

February 5, 2018
Researchers at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School have developed a two-minute questionnaire for parents that could help pediatricians and other primary care providers detect autism in toddlers, at a time when intervention ...

Research compares neural activity in children with and without autism spectrum disorder

January 29, 2018
Pick a hand, any hand. That familiar refrain, repeated in schoolyards the world over, is the basis of a simple guessing game that was recently adapted to study how and why kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) interact ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.