BehaviorDEPOT is a simple, flexible tool for automated behavioral detection based on markerless pose tracking

Elife. 2022 Aug 23;11:e74314. doi: 10.7554/eLife.74314.


Quantitative descriptions of animal behavior are essential to study the neural substrates of cognitive and emotional processes. Analyses of naturalistic behaviors are often performed by hand or with expensive, inflexible commercial software. Recently, machine learning methods for markerless pose estimation enabled automated tracking of freely moving animals, including in labs with limited coding expertise. However, classifying specific behaviors based on pose data requires additional computational analyses and remains a significant challenge for many groups. We developed BehaviorDEPOT (DEcoding behavior based on POsitional Tracking), a simple, flexible software program that can detect behavior from video timeseries and can analyze the results of experimental assays. BehaviorDEPOT calculates kinematic and postural statistics from keypoint tracking data and creates heuristics that reliably detect behaviors. It requires no programming experience and is applicable to a wide range of behaviors and experimental designs. We provide several hard-coded heuristics. Our freezing detection heuristic achieves above 90% accuracy in videos of mice and rats, including those wearing tethered head-mounts. BehaviorDEPOT also helps researchers develop their own heuristics and incorporate them into the software's graphical interface. Behavioral data is stored framewise for easy alignment with neural data. We demonstrate the immediate utility and flexibility of BehaviorDEPOT using popular assays including fear conditioning, decision-making in a T-maze, open field, elevated plus maze, and novel object exploration.

Keywords: automated behavioral analysis; conditioned fear; decision-making; deeplabcut; minicam; mouse; neuroscience; open-source; rat.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Machine Learning
  • Rats
  • Software*