Unsupervised whisker tracking in unrestrained behaving animals

J Neurophysiol. 2008 Jul;100(1):504-15. doi: 10.1152/jn.00012.2008. Epub 2008 May 7.


Understanding how whisker-based tactile information is represented in the nervous system requires quantification of sensory input and observation of neural activity during whisking and whisker touch. Chronic electrophysiological methods have long been available to study neural responses in awake and behaving animals; however, methods to quantify the sensory input on whiskers have not yet been developed. Here we describe an unsupervised algorithm to track whisker movements in high-speed video recordings and to quantify the statistics of the tactile information on whiskers in freely behaving animals during haptic object exploration. The algorithm does not require human identification of whiskers, nor does it assume the shape, location, orientation, length of whiskers, or direction of the whisker movements. The algorithm performs well on temporary loss of whisker visibility and under low-light/low-contrast conditions even with inherent anisotropic noise and non-Gaussian variability in the signal. Using this algorithm, we define the speed [protraction (P), 1,081 +/- 322; retraction (R), 1,564 +/- 549 degrees /s], duration (P, 34 +/- 10; R, 24 +/- 8 ms), amplitude (P = R, 40 +/- 13 degrees ), and frequency (19 +/- 7 Hz) of active whisking in freely behaving mice. We furthermore quantify whisker deflection induced changes in whisking kinematics and calculate the statistics (i.e., speed, amplitude and duration) of whisker touch and finally show that whisker deprivation does not alter whisking kinematics during haptic exploration.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Numerical Analysis, Computer-Assisted
  • Physical Stimulation / methods
  • Sensory Thresholds
  • Touch
  • Vibrissae / physiology*
  • Video Recording