Automated multi-day tracking of marked mice for the analysis of social behaviour

J Neurosci Methods. 2013 Sep 30;219(1):10-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2013.05.013. Epub 2013 Jun 26.


A quantitative description of animal social behaviour is informative for behavioural biologists and clinicians developing drugs to treat social disorders. Social interaction in a group of animals has been difficult to measure because behaviour develops over long periods of time and requires tedious manual scoring, which is subjective and often non-reproducible. Computer-vision systems with the ability to measure complex social behaviour automatically would have a transformative impact on biology. Here, we present a method for tracking group-housed mice individually as they freely interact over multiple days. Each mouse is bleach-marked with a unique fur pattern. The patterns are automatically learned by the tracking software and used to infer identities. Trajectories are analysed to measure behaviour as it develops over days, beyond the range of acute experiments. We demonstrate how our system may be used to study the development of place preferences, associations and social relationships by tracking four mice continuously for five days. Our system enables accurate and reproducible characterisation of wild-type mouse social behaviour and paves the way for high-throughput long-term observation of the effects of genetic, pharmacological and environmental manipulations.

Keywords: Automated; Long term; Multiple mice tracking; Social behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Automation
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Behavioral Research / instrumentation
  • Behavioral Research / methods*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Female
  • Hair / physiology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Social Behavior*