JAN 07, 2019 12:40 PM PST

Software Program Decodes Rodent Chatter

WRITTEN BY: Nouran Amin

Scientists have long known that rats and mice are social animals, always chatting up something new. Curious about understanding what is communicated between rodents, researchers at the University of Washington Medical School created a software program called DeepSqueak—which utilizes the broad adoption of rodent vocalization research. Results of the study were published in Neuropsychopharmacology.

Credit: Alice Gray, UW Medicine

Ultrasonic vocalizations will become more convenient thanks to DeepSqueak which represents the first utilization of deep artificial neural networks in squeak detection and works by transforming an audio signal into a sonogram. "DeepSqueak uses biomimetic algorithms that learn to isolate vocalizations by being given labeled examples of vocalizations and noise," explains Russel Marx, study co-author who investigates complex behaviors related to stress and addiction.

Kevin Coffey, a postdoctoral fellow who studies psychological aspects of drugs, believes rodents seem happiest when they are anticipating reward—for example, sugar. They can also become the happiest when playing with their peers—to illustrate, when two male mice interact they make the same calls over and over. But, when a female mice is around, vocalizations are more complex perhaps fitting to a courtship song. Vocalization is even more dramatic when a male mouse can detect smell but not see the female mouse. These observations conclude that male mice have distinct songs for different stages of courtship.

The research study may shed new light on drug abuse and explain the nature of addiction using mouse models. "The animals have a rich repertoire of calls, around 20 kinds," explains Coffey. "With drugs of abuse, you see both positive and negative calls.” This can open the doors for drug discovery and development for treatments from alcohol or opioid addiction.

"If scientists can understand better how drugs change brain activity to cause pleasure or unpleasant feelings, we could devise better treatments for addiction," says Coffey.

Source: University of Washington-School of Medicine

About the Author
  • Nouran earned her BS and MS in Biology at IUPUI and currently shares her love of science by teaching. She enjoys writing on various topics as well including science & medicine, global health, and conservation biology. She hopes through her writing she can make science more engaging and communicable to the general public.
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