BACKGROUND: Manual analysis of behavior is labor intensive and subject to inter-rater variability. Although considerable progress in automation of analysis has been made, complex behavior such as grooming still lacks satisfactory automated quantification.
NEW METHOD: We trained a freely available, automated classifier, Janelia Automatic Animal Behavior Annotator (JAABA), to quantify self-grooming duration and number of bouts based on video recordings of SAPAP3 knockout mice (a mouse line that self-grooms excessively) and wild-type animals.
RESULTS: We compared the JAABA classifier with human expert observers to test its ability to measure self-grooming in three scenarios: Mice in an open field, mice on an elevated plus-maze, and tethered mice in an open field. In each scenario, the classifier identified both grooming and non-grooming with great accuracy and correlated highly with results obtained by human observers. Consistently, the JAABA classifier confirmed previous reports of excessive grooming in SAPAP3 knockout mice.
COMPARISON WITH EXISTING METHODS: Thus far, manual analysis was regarded as the only valid quantification method for self-grooming. We demonstrate that the JAABA classifier is a valid and reliable scoring tool, more cost-efficient than manual scoring, easy to use, requires minimal effort, provides high throughput, and prevents inter-rater variability.
CONCLUSION: We introduce the JAABA classifier as an efficient analysis tool for the assessment of rodent self-grooming with expert quality. In our "how-to" instructions, we provide all information necessary to implement behavioral classification with JAABA.