Testing optokinetic head or eye movements is an established method to determine visual performance of laboratory animals, including chickens, guinea pigs, mice, or fish. It is based on the optokinetic reflex which causes the animals to track a drifting stripe pattern with eye and head movements. We have developed an improved version of the optomotor test with better control over the stimulus parameters, as well as a high degree of automation. The stripe pattern is presented on computer monitors surrounding the animal. By tracking the head position of freely moving animals in real time, the visual angle under which the stripes of the pattern appeared was kept constant even for changing head positions. Furthermore, an algorithm was developed for automated evaluation of the tracking performance of the animal. Comparing the automatically determined behavioral score with manual assessment of the animals' tracking behavior confirmed the reliability of our methodology. As an example, we reproduced the known contrast sensitivity function of wild type mice. Furthermore, the progressive decline in visual performance of a mouse model of retinal degeneration, rd10, was demonstrated.
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