Marx and DeepSqueak co-creator Kevin Coffey, who both study addiction and psychology issues at University of Washington School of Medicine, have already made some interesting discoveries. Their initial efforts have focused on discerning calls of happiness or distress when working with mice in addiction experiments.
“The animals have a rich repertoire of calls, around 20 kinds,” said Coffey. “With drugs of abuse, you see both positive and negative calls.”
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The mice appear to be happiest when they are anticipating a reward such as sugar, Coffey noted, but they also make happy calls in certain social situations. The researchers also observed that male mice make the same calls over and over when they’ re around other males, but switch to more complex vocalizations when females are nearby.
There’ s probably an entire shelf full of future sociological research in that one observation, but for now the team’s goal is to use the new technology for advancing addiction research.
John Neumaier, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the UW School of Medicine and associate director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute, said that DeepSqueak should help his lab make better and faster progress in the field by making vocalization analysis convenient, efficient, and affordable.
“If scientists can understand better how drugs change brain activity to cause pleasure or unpleasant feelings,” he said, “we could devise better treatments for addiction.”