Research Article: Towards large scale automated cage monitoring – Diurnal rhythm and impact of interventions on in-cage activity of C57BL/6J mice recorded 24/7 with a non-disrupting capacitive-based technique

Date Published: February 4, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Karin Pernold, F. Iannello, B. E. Low, M. Rigamonti, G. Rosati, F. Scavizzi, J. Wang, M. Raspa, M. V. Wiles, B. Ulfhake, Eric M. Mintz.


Automated recording of laboratory animal’s home cage behavior is receiving increasing attention since such non-intruding surveillance will aid in the unbiased understanding of animal cage behavior potentially improving animal experimental reproducibility.

Here we investigate activity of group held female C57BL/6J mice (mus musculus) housed in standard Individually Ventilated Cages across three test-sites: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR, Rome, Italy), The Jackson Laboratory (JAX, Bar Harbor, USA) and Karolinska Insititutet (KI, Stockholm, Sweden). Additionally, comparison of female and male C57BL/6J mice was done at KI. Activity was recorded using a capacitive-based sensor placed non-intrusively on the cage rack under the home cage collecting activity data every 250 msec, 24/7. The data collection was analyzed using non-parametric analysis of variance for longitudinal data comparing sites, weekdays and sex.

The system detected an increase in activity preceding and peaking around lights-on followed by a decrease to a rest pattern. At lights off, activity increased substantially displaying a distinct temporal variation across this period. We also documented impact on mouse activity that standard animal handling procedures have, e.g. cage-changes, and show that such procedures are stressors impacting in-cage activity.

These data demonstrate that home cage monitoring is scalable and run in real time, providing complementary information for animal welfare measures, experimental design and phenotype characterization.

Partial Text

The use of animals in scientific experiments has many key advantages taking into consideration as it does, the complexity of the complete living organism however, there are also intrinsic challenges including a moral imperative to follow a “Replace, Reduce and Refine” philosophy [1,2], and to maximize data acquisition and usefulness in all experimental systems involving them. An absolute requirement for any experimental system is reproducibility [3]. Mice, especially inbred mice, form the cornerstone of a highly tractable mammalian experimental system however, living organisms including mice are highly sophisticated biological organisms showing a strong capability to react and adapt to the conditions they find themselves in. Thus, for ethical and scientific reasons the use of animal as experimental models, their characterization plus the provision of the best possible husbandry are prerequisites in optimizing their use and improving reproducibility. Over the past years, animal testing in academic discovery research has been the subject of substantial critique (e.g. [4–6]). Common flaws include insufficient reporting of animal strain used, husbandry practices, protocol details applied, design errors (randomization, bloc design and blinding) and lack of statistical power (idem; [7,8]). Further, animals, including mice display a rich repertoire of behavioral responses to experimental testing however despite our insights, it is surprisingly rare that these responses are recorded unless they are directly the subject of the study and reported as a read-out parameter (see also below), while in contrast for human clinical trials the complete collection of all data from patients, if only for compliance is a key requisite.

The digital individually ventilated cage system (DVCTM) used here is more completely described in supporting information (S1 File) to this paper. Briefly, the core of the system is an electronic sensor board installed externally and below each standard IVC cage of a rack. The sensor board is composed of an array of 12 capacitive-based planar sensing electrodes (Fig 1A). A proximity sensor measures the electrical capacitance of each of the 12 electrodes 4 times per second (every 250ms). Their electrical capacitance is influenced by the dielectric properties of matter in close proximity to the electrode, leading to measurable capacitance changes due to the presence/movement of animals in the cage. Thus, movements across the electrode array are detected and recorded as alterations in capacitance (Fig 1B). By applying custom designed algorithms (S1 File) to the collected data we can infer information regarding in-cage animal activity (Fig 2). For this study, we used the first-order difference of the raw signal (i.e., capacitance measured every 250ms) as the basic metric of animal activity. More specifically, we take the absolute value of the difference between two successive measurements for each electrode (signals spaced 250 msec apart) and compare it against a set threshold (capacitance variations due to noise) to define an activity event. This metric thus considers any animal movement that generates a significant alteration in capacitance, an activity event (for further details see S1 File). Note, this activity metric represents the overall in-cage activity generated by all mice in a cage from any electrode and is not tracking activity of individual group-housed animals.




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