You are here

Special Session: Social Behavior and Communication – From Mice to Primates

Date:  Wednesday, August 29

Organisers: Markus Wöhr (Behavioral Neuroscience Experimental and Physiological Psychology, Philipps-University of Marburg, Germany) and Marcel van Gaalen (Neuroscience Research, CNS Pharmacology, Abbott GmbH & Co. KG, Ludwigshafen, Germany)


 Social interactions and communication are among the most complex forms of behaviors.  Analyzing these behaviors remains a time consuming challenge which requires practice,  skills and patience. However, new techniques became available to speed up analysis and  standardize methods. This is particularly relevant as social behaviors are a very prominent  part of the behavioral repertoire in many species. In humans, a variety of social behaviors  are disturbed in neurological and psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s  disease and autism. The seven speakers of this symposium will present methods that allow  reliable assessment of social behavior and communication – from mice to primates. They  will demonstrate improved techniques for analysis, but also give examples of behaviors  that can so far only be analyzed by human observations.

Marcel van Gaalen will give examples of measurement of dominant submissive behavior  and various forms of aggression in mice and rats. He will show that an increased  understanding of the pharmacology of these behaviors is relevant for drug discovery for  CNS disorders. In addition, he will give examples of experimental compounds that may  have potential for treating social interaction and communication disruptions in CNS  disorders. 

Louk Vanderschuren will show that social play is the most characteristic component of the  social repertoire of young mammals, which is of great importance for the development of  physical, cognitive and social capacities. Social play is highly rewarding and an incentive for  maze learning, lever pressing and place conditioning in rats and primates. It is modulated  through neurotransmitters implicated in the motivational and hedonic properties of food  and drug rewards, such as endogenous opioids, dopamine and endocannabinoids. 

Michael Lukas will describe how behavioral assays like the social recognition/ discrimination and the social preference paradigms can be used to study elementary social  abilities that are essential for functioning social communication such as social preference  and individual social memory. Such social behaviors are regulated by highly conserved  neuropeptides, like vasopressin, oxytocin, and the newly described neuropeptide S. Michael  Lukas will present examples showing how social recognition/discrimination and the social  preference can be combined with central pharmacological manipulations and in vivo microdialysis to investigate the involvement of relevant neuropeptides. 

Markus Wöhr will show how measuring ultrasonic vocalizations and scent marks can  be applied to study communication deficits in mouse models of autism. Autism is a  severe neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by three core symptoms: 1) abnormal  reciprocal social interactions, 2) deficits in social communication, and 3) repetitive  behaviors. While reliable behavioral assays for abnormal reciprocal social interactions and  repetitive behaviors are available since several years, relevant behavioral assays in the  field of communication became available only very recently. Ultrasonic vocalizations and  scent marks are particularly interesting as they may help to detect acoustic and olfactory  communication deficits, respectively. Markus Wöhr will describe under which conditions  ultrasonic vocalizations and scent marks can be recorded and what equipment is needed. 

Dominik Seffer will give examples how playback experiments can be used to study  social behavior and ultrasonic communication in rats. Different types of rat ultrasonic  vocalizations serve distinct communicative functions, eliciting opposite behavioral and  neural responses. Dominik Seffer will present a recently developed behavioral paradigm  to study social approach behavior elicited by appetitive high-frequency ultrasonic  vocalizations and will provide experimental data showing that the paradigm is sensitive for  detecting differences in social experience during early life.

Hans Slabbekoorn will address how standardized behavioral tests on temporary captive  animals can provide an index of personality. He will argue that such a quantification  of personality traits can help in the interpretation of avian playback results in natural  territories.

Finally, Kurt Hammerschmidt will present a description of the vocal repertoire of  nonhuman primates, which consists of a limited number of call types that vary  substantially within these categories. One can find all variation from highly graded to more  or less distinct vocal repertoires, and it may be unavoidable that call variants at category  boundaries are difficult to categorize. This must not be a problem for animals which grew  up in the same community, because the efficiency of categorical perception allows the  receiver to respond correctly even in graded signaling systems. However, to understand the  evolution of acoustic communication and to compare studies in bioacoustics it is necessary  to have comparable units, or to know how different categorization levels influence the  outcome of an acoustic analysis. Kurt Hammerschmidt will discuss different ways to  establish a reliable categorization.


14:00   Studying the Neurobehavioral Mechanisms of Social Behavior in Adolescent Rats
  L.J.M.J. Vanderschuren (1,2), E.J.M. Achterberg (1), P.J.J. Baarendse (2), R. Damsteegt (2),  L.W.M. Van Kerkhof (2), and V. Trezza (3) 
  1 Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
  2 University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
  3 University “Roma Tre”, Rome, Italy.

14: 20   Ultrasonic Communication in Mouse Models of Autism
  Markus Wöhr 
  Philipps-University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany.

14:40  Ultrasonic Communication in Rats: Insights from Playback Studies
  Dominik Seffer, Rainer K.W. Schwarting, and Markus Wöhr
  Philipps-University of Marburg, Marburg, Germany.

15:00  Categorizing Vocal Repertoires of Nonhuman Primates
  Kurt Hammerschmidt, and Philip Wadewitz
  German Primate Center Göttingen, Germany.

15:20  Central Neuropeptides Social Recognition, Social Preference and Social Fear in Rodents
  M. Lukas, I. Toth, and I.D. Neumann
  University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany.

15:40  Coffee break

16:10   Measuring Behavioural Changes to Assess Anthropogenic Noise Impact on 
  Singing Birds
  H. Slabbekoorn
  Leiden University, The Netherlands.

16:30  Measuring Social Behavior in Drug Discovery
  Marcel van Gaalen, Thomas Appl, and Anton Bespalov
  Neuroscience Research, GPRD, Abbott, Ludwigshafen, Germany.

16:50   Individual Differences in F0 Imitation: Causes and Effects 
  M. Postma, and E. Postma
  Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands.

17:10  End of session.