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Pharmacology of Ultrasonic Vocalizations in adult Rats: Significance, Call Classification and Neural Substrate

[ Vol. 13 , Issue. 2 ]


Stefan M. Brudzynski   Pages 180 - 192 ( 13 )


Pharmacological studies of emotional arousal and initiation of emotional states in rats measured by their ultrasonic vocalizations are reviewed. It is postulated that emission of vocalizations is an inseparable feature of emotional states and it evolved from mother-infant interaction. Positive emotional states are associated with emission of 50 kHz vocalizations that could be induced by rewarding situations and dopaminergic activation of the nucleus accumbens and are mediated by D1, D2, and partially D3 dopamine receptors. Three biologically significant subtypes of 50 kHz vocalizations have been identified, all expressing positive emotional states: (1) flat calls without frequency modulation that serve as contact calls during social interactions; (2) frequencymodulated calls without trills that signal rewarding and significantly motivated situation; and (3) frequency-modulated calls with trills or trills themselves that are emitted in highly emotional situations associated with intensive affective state. Negative emotional states are associated with emission of 22 kHz vocalizations that could be induced by aversive situations, muscarinic cholinergic activation of limbic areas of medial diencephalon and forebrain, and are mediated by M2 muscarinic receptors. Two biologically significant subtypes of 22 kHz vocalizations have been identified, both expressing negative emotional sates: (1) long calls that serve as alarm calls and signal external danger; and (2) short calls that express a state of discomfort without external danger. The positive and negative states with emission of vocalizations are initiated by two ascending reticular activating subsystems: the mesolimbic dopaminergic subsystem as a specific positive arousal system, and the mesolimbic cholinergic subsystem as a specific negative arousal system.


Appetitive state, aversive state, cholinergic system, dopaminergic system, emotional arousal, 22 kHz calls, 50 kHz calls, ultrasonic calls.


Department of Psychology, Brock University, 500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines, Ontario, L2S 3A1 Canada.

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