Bains, R. S., Forrest, H., Sillito, R. R. et al. 2023. Longitudinal home-cage automated assessment of climbing behavior shows sexual dimorphism and aging-related decrease in C57BL/6J healthy mice and allows early detection of motor impairment in the N171-82Q mouse model of Huntington’s disease. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience 17, 1148172.
Monitoring the activity of mice within their home cage is proving to be a powerful tool for revealing subtle and early-onset phenotypes in mouse models. Video-tracking, in particular, lends itself to automated machine-learning technologies that have the potential to improve the manual annotations carried out by humans. This type of recording and analysis is particularly powerful in objective phenotyping, monitoring behaviors with no experimenter intervention. Automated home-cage testing allows the recording of non-evoked voluntary behaviors, which do not require any contact with the animal or exposure to specialist equipment. By avoiding stress deriving from handling, this approach, on the one hand, increases the welfare of experimental animals and, on the other hand, increases the reliability of results excluding confounding effects of stress on behavior. In this study, we show that the monitoring of climbing on the wire cage lid of a standard individually ventilated cage (IVC) yields reproducible data reflecting complex phenotypes of individual mouse inbred strains and of a widely used model of neurodegeneration, the N171-82Q mouse model of Huntington’s disease (HD). Measurements in the home-cage environment allowed for the collection of comprehensive motor activity data, which revealed sexual dimorphism, daily biphasic changes, and aging-related decrease in healthy C57BL/6J mice. Furthermore, home-cage recording of climbing allowed early detection of motor impairment in the N171-82Q HD mouse model. Integrating cage-floor activity with cage-lid activity (climbing) has the potential to greatly enhance the characterization of mouse strains, detecting early and subtle signs of disease and increasing reproducibility in preclinical studies.