Hwang, S.-K., Tyszkiewicz, C., Dragon, M. et al. 2022. Introduction of gloved hand to cage induces 22-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations in male albino rats. PLoS ONE 17(11), e0278034.

Rodents emit ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) above the human hearing threshold of ~ 20 kHz to communicate emotional states and to coordinate their social interactive behavior. Twenty-two kHz USVs emitted by adult rats have been reported in a variety of aversive social and behavioral situations. They occur not only under painful or restraining conditions but can also be evoked by gentle cutaneous touch or airflow. This study aimed to test if placement of a human hand in a cage can evoke 22-kHz USVs. It was found that 36% of the adult male Sprague-Dawley and 13% of the adult male Wistar Han rats emitted 22-kHz USVs when a gloved hand was introduced into the cages. Average vocalization onset latencies were 5.0 ± 4.4 s (Sprague-Dawley) and 7.4 ± 4.0 s (Wistar Han) and the USVs had a stable frequency (22 kHz) across the calls, ranging from 0.1 to 2.3 seconds in duration. Surprisingly, no 22-kHz USVs were found in any female Wistar Han rats tested. To further explore the mechanisms underlying this observation, we compared retinal function, basal serum corticosterone, and testosterone levels between the 22-kHz USV responders and non-responders. None of these parameters or endpoints showed any significant differences between the two cohorts. The results suggest that the introduction of a gloved-hand inside the cage can trigger adult male albino rats to emit 22-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations. This response should be considered in USV studies and animal welfare.

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