Environmental Effects on Rat Ultrasonic Vocalizations and Brain Plasticity: Social Isolation and Environmental Enrichment

Dominik Seffer, Rainer K.W. Schwarting, Markus Wöhr

Research output: Other contributionResearch


In mammalian species, early life experiences are crucial for the acquisition of social and communication skills. While a positive environment promotes the appropriate development of adult social competency, negative experiences during this critical phase may result in changes causing social deficits in later life. Communication is an important component of the rat's social behavior, with ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) serving as socioaffective signals for the regulation of animal interactions. Early life experiences, including social isolation and environmental enrichment, were shown to critically affect ultrasonic communication in rats. While social enrichment increased the motivation for social contact and led to more pronounced social exploration, postweaning social isolation and physical enrichment negatively influenced ultrasonic communication in the sender and the recipient, as indicated by decreased call emission and diminished approach behavior in response to playback of prosocial USVs. At the neurobiological level, these manipulations were found to alter neurotransmitter systems, neuronal plasticity, and brain morphology, presumably mediated by posttranscriptional factors regulating gene expression, especially microRNAs. The induced impairments are of high relevance to animal models of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by social communication deficits, such as autism and schizophrenia.

Original languageEnglish
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9780128096000
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Enriched environment
  • Juvenile isolation
  • MicroRNA
  • Neurogenesis
  • Social experience
  • Social exploration
  • Ultrasonic communication

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Environmental Effects on Rat Ultrasonic Vocalizations and Brain Plasticity: Social Isolation and Environmental Enrichment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this