Virtual reality for freely moving animals

Nat Methods. 2017 Oct;14(10):995-1002. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.4399. Epub 2017 Aug 21.


Standard animal behavior paradigms incompletely mimic nature and thus limit our understanding of behavior and brain function. Virtual reality (VR) can help, but it poses challenges. Typical VR systems require movement restrictions but disrupt sensorimotor experience, causing neuronal and behavioral alterations. We report the development of FreemoVR, a VR system for freely moving animals. We validate immersive VR for mice, flies, and zebrafish. FreemoVR allows instant, disruption-free environmental reconfigurations and interactions between real organisms and computer-controlled agents. Using the FreemoVR platform, we established a height-aversion assay in mice and studied visuomotor effects in Drosophila and zebrafish. Furthermore, by photorealistically mimicking zebrafish we discovered that effective social influence depends on a prospective leader balancing its internally preferred directional choice with social interaction. FreemoVR technology facilitates detailed investigations into neural function and behavior through the precise manipulation of sensorimotor feedback loops in unrestrained animals.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice / physiology*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motor Activity*
  • Spatial Behavior*
  • User-Computer Interface*
  • Zebrafish / physiology*