Noradrenergic Receptor Modulation Influences the Acoustic Parameters of Pro-Social Rat Ultrasonic Vocalizations

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Abstract

Rats produce high rates of ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) in social situations; these vocalizations are influenced by multiple neurotransmitter systems. Norepinephrine (NE) plays a significant role in vocalization biology; however, the contribution of NE to normal, prosocial vocal control has not been well established in the rat. To address this, we used NE adrenoceptor agonists (Cirazoline, Clonidine) and antagonists (Prozasin, Atipamezole, Propranolol) to quantify the contribution of specific alpha-1, alpha-2, and beta NE receptors to USV parameters in male Long Evans rats during seminaturalistic calling. We found that multiple USV acoustic variables (intensity, bandwidth, duration, peak frequency, and call profile) are modified by alterations in NE signaling. Very generally, agents that increased NE neurotransmission (Atipamezole) or activated alpha-1 receptors (Cirazoline), led to an increase in intensity and duration, respectively. Agents that decreased NE neurotransmission (Clonidine) or blocked alpha-1 receptors (Prazosin) reduced call rate, intensity, and bandwidth. However, the beta-receptor antagonist, Propranolol, was associated with increased call rate, duration, and intensity. Limb motor behaviors were largely unaffected by any drug, with the exception of Clonidine. Higher doses of Clonidine significantly reduced gross motor, grooming, and feeding behavior. These results confirm the involvement of NE transmission in vocal control in the rat, and suggest that this USV model is useful for studying the neuropharmacology of behavioral measures that may have implications for disease states, such as Parkinson’s disease.

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