Vocal Signals of Sexual Motivation in Male and Female Rodents


Purpose of the Review

Rodents produce ultrasonic vocalizations (USV) under different social contexts, including courtship and reproduction. The present review aims to summarize the behavioral, bioacoustical, and physiological evidence that USV are reliable signals of sexual motivation in both male and female rodents.

Recent Findings

USV are actively produced by both sexes during sexual interactions, contrary to earlier assumptions. Male-typical and female-typical vocal behaviors can be identified. Calling rates and acoustic parameters, such as call duration, frequency, and energy, can be modulated rapidly over time by motivational state and sexual context. USV produced in response to sexual context could be regulated by the brain on a moment-to-moment basis through non-classical mechanisms of steroid action. Finally, I provide some practical considerations for the acoustic and statistical analyses of these vocal signals.


USV can be used as signals of sexual motivation in both sexes to study brain and hormonal mechanisms underlying sexual behavior or sexual differentiation.

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Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: • Of importance •• Of major importance

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I would like to thank Robert E. Johnston, Elizabeth Adkins-Regan, and Andrew Bass for guidance and support in the writing of an earlier version of this manuscript. I thank Gregory J. Peters and Luke Remage-Healey for helpful comments on how to improve this manuscript. Finally, I would like to thank Fay Guarraci and Lesley Marson for constructive editorial and reviewer comments and for the invitation to contribute with this article.

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Correspondence to Marcela Fernández-Vargas.

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Fernández-Vargas, M. Vocal Signals of Sexual Motivation in Male and Female Rodents. Curr Sex Health Rep 10, 315–328 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11930-018-0179-9

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  • Ultrasonic vocalizations
  • Sexual behavior
  • Sexual motivation
  • Sex steroids
  • Bioacoustics
  • Communication
  • Nongenomic steroid action
  • Rodents
  • House mouse
  • Rats
  • Golden hamsters
  • Syrian hamsters