Mutual mother-infant recognition in mice: The role of pup ultrasonic vocalizations

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The importance of the mother-infant bond for the development of offspring health and sociality has been studied not only in primate species but also in rodent species. A social bond is defined as affiliative behaviors toward a specific partner. However, controversy remains concerning whether mouse pups can distinguish between their own mother and an alien mother, and whether mothers can differentiate their own pups from alien pups. In this study, we investigated whether mutual recognition exists between mother and infant in ICR mice. Furthermore, we studied pup ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs), which are emitted by pups when isolated from their mothers, to determine whether they constituted an individual signature used by the mother for pup recognition. We conducted a variety of two-choice tests and selective-retrieving tests. In a two-choice test for mother recognition by the pup, pups between the ages of 17 and 21 days preferred their own mothers to alien mothers. In a two-choice test for pup recognition by its mother, the mothers located their own pups faster than alien pups at the beginning of the test, yet displayed similar retrieving activity for both their own and alien pups in the subsequent selective-retrieving test. Furthermore, after recording USVs from pups from subject and alien mothers, then playing them simultaneously, subject mothers displayed a preference for pup USVs emitted by their own pups. Overall, our findings support the existence of mother-infant bonding in mice and suggest that pup USVs contribute to pup recognition by mothers.

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