Researchers at Harvard University have developed a new tool to help measure behaviors in animal movement.

The team ran their studies by combining their tool, CAPTURE, with neural recordings to describe the relationship between brain activity and behavior. They are also working with Google DeepMind to use CAPTURE to model animal behavior using deep neural networks.

"We had developed really elaborate approaches to study how the brain is disrupted in parkinsonian mice, but our ability to measure their behavioral deficits was a far cry from the nuanced ways we can assess the impact of Parkinson's on human behavior," said co-author Jesse D. Marshall. "It became clear to me that a major reason why so many drugs tested in mice don't translate to humans is that our ability to measure their effects on behavior is quite limited."

Marshall's obsession with the idea of CAPTURE started as a student working on Parkinson's Disease models in mice. Marshall was weary of the complexities and constraints involved with brain function in relation to the actions of an animal.

Animal behaviour is of significant interest to a wide range of fields, ranging from biology and psychology to ecology and pharmacology. Careful study of the behavior of laboratories helps researchers to simulate human disorders and to determine the efficacy of new drugs. A behavioral surveillance device blends motion capture with profound education to map the three-dimensional motions of free activities.

A scientist works in the laboratory
Photo by Dmitriy Suponnikov / Unsplash

"In contrast to traditional motion capture in humans, which is done in short bursts, we collected data continuously, 24/7," said Marshall. "This allowed us to really quantify everything rats do in their normal lives -- an atlas for behavior."

Marshall spent six months working out how to repair markings for his creatures. He attempted tattoos, adhesives, and hair dyes before embarking on body-piercings. Team also studied how illness habits and medication responses shift.

Co-author Bence P. Ölveczky said, "Our lab studies how skilled movements are learned and generated by the brain. Traditionally, these studies are done by designing specific tasks and relating brain activity to simple behavioral readouts i.e. did the animal push this lever? Did the animal lick this port? Such observations tell us whether our rats solve the task, but says nothing about how they do it and that's exactly what we are interested in; how the brain learns and controls skilled movements. Getting at this required more precise and sophisticated readouts of behavior."

Scientists have long been suspecting that disturbed grooming may be used to model the motor stereotypes (repetitive movements and sons) The team is now conducting their research by integrating CAPTURE with neural recordings.