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Engineered deafness reveals that mouse courtship vocalizations do not require auditory experience

Mahrt, EJ;Perkel, DJ;Tong, L;Rubel, EW;Portfors, CV;

Auditory experience during development is necessary for normal language acquisition in humans. Although songbirds, some cetaceans, and maybe bats may also be vocal learners, vocal learning has yet to be well established for a laboratory mammal. Mice are potentially an excellent model organism for studying mechanisms underlying vocal communication. Mice vocalize in different social contexts, yet whether they learn their vocalizations remains unresolved. To address this question, we compared ultrasonic courtship vocalizations emitted by chronically deaf and normal hearing adult male mice. We deafened CBA/CaJ male mice, engineered to express diphtheria toxin (DT) receptors in hair cells, by systemic injection of DT at postnatal day 2 (P2). By P9, almost all inner hair cells were absent and by P16 all inner and outer hair cells were absent in DTR mice. These mice did not show any auditory brainstem responses as adults. Wild-type littermates, also treated with DT at P2, had normal hair cells and normal auditory brainstem responses. We compared the temporal structure of vocalization bouts, the types of vocalizations, the patterns of syllables, and the acoustic features of each syllable type emitted by hearing and deaf males in the presence of a female. We found that almost all of the vocalization features we examined were similar in hearing and deaf animals. These findings indicate that mice do not need auditory experience during development to produce normal ultrasonic vocalizations in adulthood. We conclude that mouse courtship vocalizations are not acquired through auditory feedback-dependent learning.