Characterization of ultrasonic vocalizations of Fragile X mice

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Abstract

Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) is the leading form of inherited intellectual disability. It is caused by the transcriptional silencing of FMR1, the gene which codes for the Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein (FMRP). Patients who have FXS exhibit numerous behavioral and cognitive impairments, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and autistic-like behaviors. In addition to these behavioral abnormalities, FXS patients have also been shown to exhibit various deficits in communication such as abnormal sentence structures, increased utterances, repetition of sounds and words, and reduced articulation. These deficits can dramatically hinder communication for FXS patients, exacerbating learning and cognition impairments while decreasing their quality of life. To examine the biological underpinnings of these communication abnormalities, studies have used a mouse model of the Fragile X Syndrome; however, these vocalization studies have resulted in inconsistent findings that often do not correlate with abnormalities observed in FXS patients. Interestingly, a detailed examination of frequency modulated vocalizations that are believed to be a better assessment of rodent communication has never been conducted. The following study used courtship separation to conduct a detailed examination of frequency modulated ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) in FXS mice. Our analyses of frequency modulated USVs demonstrated that adult FXS mice exhibited longer phrases and more motifs. Phrases are vocalizations consisting of multiple frequency modulated ultrasonic vocalizations, while motifs are repeated frequency modulated USV patterns. Fragile X mice had a higher proportion of “u” syllables in all USVs and phrases while their wildtype counterparts preferred isolated “h” syllables. Although the specific importance of these syllables towards communication deficits still needs to be evaluated, these findings in production of USVs are consistent with the repetitive and perseverative speech patterns observed in FXS patients. This study demonstrates that FXS mice can be used to study the underlying biological mechanism(s) mediating FXS vocalization abnormalities.

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