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

May 8, 2017

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.

The video will load shortly.
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

Signaling pathway may be key to why autism is more common in boys

October 17, 2017
Researchers aiming to understand why autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are more common in boys have discovered differences in a brain signaling pathway involved in reward learning and motivation that make male mice more vulnerable ...

Whole genome sequencing identifies new genetic signature for autism

October 12, 2017
Autism has genetic roots, but most cases can't be explained by current genetic tests.

Mum's immune response could trigger social deficits for kids with autism

October 10, 2017
The retrospective cohort study of 220 Australian children, conducted between 2011-2014, indicates that a "an immune-mediated subtype" of autism driven by the body's inflammatory and immunological systems may be pivotal, according ...

Largest study to date reveals gender-specific risk of autism occurrence among siblings

September 25, 2017
Having one child with autism is a well-known risk factor for having another one with the same disorder, but whether and how a sibling's gender influences this risk has remained largely unknown.

Faulty cell signaling derails cerebral cortex development, could it lead to autism?

September 20, 2017
As the embryonic brain develops, an incredibly complex cascade of cellular events occur, starting with progenitors - the originating cells that generate neurons and spur proper cortex development. If this cascade malfunctions ...

Predicting atypical development in infants at high risk for autism?

September 12, 2017
New research from the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) identifies a potential biomarker that predicts atypical development in 1- to 2-month-old infants at high ...

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.