Auditory neurobiology has benefited significantly from ethological approaches using acoustic communication signals. Developing an ethological model in a genetically manipulable system such as the mouse would enhance the ability to investigate the processing, learning, and recognition of sounds. Characterizing the basic acoustic structure of mouse vocalizations would help lay a foundation for such a future study. Towards this goal, ultrasound vocalizations emitted by isolated mouse pups and pairs of adult males and females have been digitally recorded and examined. Previous work suggests that these calls may have communicative significance. An analysis of the natural variability in their spectral content, median frequency, duration, and repetition period reveals acoustic structure that could be used for recognizing the calls. Other parameters, like the rate of frequency modulation, may also be informative, but have not been examined. Pup isolation calls develop systematically between postnatal day 5 and 12 towards a more stereotyped vocalization—contracting from a wide range of values into narrower clusters of frequency and duration, and shifting from longer to shorter repetition periods. Most significantly, pup isolation and adult encounter calls fall into two distinct spectral and temporal categories, making it possible for a receiver to acoustically distinguish between them, and to potentially categorically perceive them along those dimensions.

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