Non-invasive primate head restraint using thermoplastic masks

J Neurosci Methods. 2015 Sep 30:253:90-100. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2015.06.013. Epub 2015 Jun 22.


Background: The success of many neuroscientific studies depends upon adequate head fixation of awake, behaving animals. Typically, this is achieved by surgically affixing a head-restraint prosthesis to the skull.

New method: Here we report the use of thermoplastic masks to non-invasively restrain monkeys' heads. Mesh thermoplastic sheets become pliable when heated and can then be molded to an individual monkey's head. After cooling, the custom mask retains this shape indefinitely for day-to-day use.

Results: We successfully trained rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) to perform cognitive tasks while wearing thermoplastic masks. Using these masks, we achieved a level of head stability sufficient for high-resolution eye-tracking and intracranial electrophysiology.

Comparison with existing method: Compared with traditional head-posts, we find that thermoplastic masks perform at least as well during infrared eye-tracking and single-neuron recordings, allow for clearer magnetic resonance image acquisition, enable freer placement of a transcranial magnetic stimulation coil, and impose lower financial and time costs on the lab.

Conclusions: We conclude that thermoplastic masks are a viable non-invasive form of primate head restraint that enable a wide range of neuroscientific experiments.

Keywords: Electrophysiology; Eye-tracking; Head restraint; Head-post; Non-human primates; Transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain / cytology
  • Equipment Design
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Head / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Masks*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Restraint, Physical*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Wakefulness