Behavior Research Methods vol:41 issue:1 pages:148-153
In this article, an automated and accurate mouse observation method, based on a conventional test for motor function evaluation, is outlined. The proposed measurement technique was integrated in a regular open-field test, where the trajectory and locomotion of a free-moving mouse were measured simultaneously. The system setup consisted of a transparent cage and a camera placed below it with its lens pointing upward, allowing for images to be captured from underneath the cage while the mouse was walking on the transparent cage floor. Thus, additional information was obtained about the position of the limbs of the mice for gait reconstruction. In a first step, the camera was calibrated as soon as it was fixed in place. A linear calibration factor, relating distances in image coordinates to real-world dimensions, was determined. In a second step, the mouse was located and its body contour segmented from the image by subtracting a previously taken "background" image of the empty cage from the camera image. In a third step, the movement of the mouse was analyzed and its speed estimated from its location in the past few images. If the speed was above a I-sec threshold, the mouse was recognized to be running, and the image was further processed for footprint recognition. In a fourth step, color filtering was applied within the recovered mouse region to measure the position of the mouse's paws, which were visible in the image as small pink spots. Paws that were detected at the same location in a number of subsequent images were kept as footprints-that is, paws in contact with the cage floor. The footprints were classified by their position relative to the mouse's outline as corresponding to the front left or right paw or the hind left or right paw. Finally, eight parameters were calculated from the footprint pattern to describe the locomotion of the mouse: right/left overlap, front/hind base, right/left front limb stride, and right/left hind limb stride. As an application, the system was tested using normal mice and mice displaying pentobarbital-induced ataxia. The footprint parameters measured using the proposed system showed differences of 10% to 20% between normal and ataxic mice.