Semi-Automated Training of Rat Ultrasonic Vocalizations

Aaron M. Johnson, Charles Lenell, Elizabeth Severa, Denis Michael Rudisch, Robert A. Morrison, Adrianna C. Shembel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Rats produce ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) for conspecific communication. These USVs are valuable biomarkers for studying behavioral and mechanistic changes in a variety of diseases and disorders. Previous work has demonstrated operant conditioning can progressively increase the number of USVs produced by rats over multiple weeks. This operant conditioning paradigm is a useful model for investigating the effects of increased laryngeal muscle use on USV acoustic characteristics and underlying central and peripheral laryngeal sensorimotor mechanisms. Previous USV operant conditioning studies relied on manual training to elicit USV productions, which is both time and labor intensive and can introduce human variability. This manuscript introduces a semi-automated method for training rats to increase their rate of USV production by pairing commercially available operant conditioning equipment with an ultrasonic detection system. USV training requires three basic components: elicitation cue, detection of the behavior, and a reward to reinforce the desired behavior. With the semi-automated training paradigm, indirect exposure to the opposite sex or an olfactory cue can be used to elicit USV production. The elicited USV is then automatically detected by the ultrasonic acoustic system, which consequently triggers the release of a sucrose pellet reward. Our results demonstrate this semi-automated procedure produces a similar increase in USV production as the manual training method. Through automation of USV detection and reward administration, staffing requirements, human error, and subject behavioral variability may be minimized while scalability and reproducibility are increased. This automation may also result in greater experimental flexibility, allowing USV training paradigms to become more customizable for a wider array of applications. This semi-automated USV behavioral training paradigm improves upon manual training techniques by increasing the ease, speed, and quality of data collection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number826550
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
StatePublished - Mar 4 2022


  • automated training
  • operant conditioning
  • rat
  • ultrasonic vocalizations
  • voice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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