An obstacle to understanding neural mechanisms of movement is the complex, distributed nature of the mammalian motor system. Here we present a novel behavioral paradigm for high-throughput dissection of neural circuits underlying mouse forelimb control. Custom touch-sensing joysticks were used to quantify mouse forelimb trajectories with micron-millisecond spatiotemporal resolution. Joysticks were integrated into computer-controlled, rack-mountable home cages, enabling batches of mice to be trained in parallel. Closed loop behavioral analysis enabled online control of reward delivery for automated training. We used this system to show that mice can learn, with no human handling, a direction-specific hold-still center-out reach task in which a mouse first held its right forepaw still before reaching out to learned spatial targets. Stabilogram diffusion analysis of submillimeter-scale micromovements produced during the hold demonstrate that an active control process, akin to upright balance, was implemented to maintain forepaw stability. Trajectory decomposition methods, previously used in primates, were used to segment hundreds of thousands of forelimb trajectories into millions of constituent kinematic primitives. This system enables rapid dissection of neural circuits for controlling motion primitives from which forelimb sequences are built. NEW & NOTEWORTHY A novel joystick design resolves mouse forelimb kinematics with micron-millisecond precision. Home cage training is used to train mice in a hold-still center-out reach task. Analytical methods, previously used in primates, are used to decompose mouse forelimb trajectories into kinematic primitives.
Keywords: joystick; motor primitives; mouse forelimb; reach.