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Social Ultrasonic Vocalization in Awake Head-Restrained Mouse.
Numerous animal species emit vocalizations in response to various social stimuli. The neural basis of vocal communication has been investigated in monkeys, songbirds, rats, bats, and invertebrates resulting in deep insights into motor control, neural coding, and learning. Mice, which recently became very popular as a model system for mammalian neuroscience, also utilize ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) during mating behavior. However, our knowledge is lacking of both the behavior and its underlying neural mechanism. We developed a novel method for head-restrained male mice (HRMM) to interact with non-restrained female mice (NRFM) and show that mice can emit USVs in this context. We first recorded USVs in a free arena with non-restrained male mice (NRMM) and NRFM. Of the NRMM, which vocalized in the free arena, the majority could be habituated to also vocalize while head-restrained but only when a female mouse was present in proximity. The USVs emitted by HRMM are similar to the USVs of NRMM in the presence of a female mouse in their spectral structure, inter-syllable interval distribution, and USV sequence length, and therefore are interpreted as social USVs. By analyzing the vocalizations of NRMM, we established criteria to predict which individuals are likely to vocalize while head fixed based on the USV rate and average syllable duration. To characterize the USVs emitted by HRMM, we analyzed the syllable composition of HRMM and NRMM and found that USVs emitted by HRMM have a higher proportion of USVs with complex spectral representation, supporting previous studies showing that mice social USVs are context dependent. Our results suggest a way to study the neural mechanisms of production and control of social vocalization in mice using advanced methods requiring head fixation.