TailTimer: A device for automating data collection in the rodent tail immersion assay

Mallory E. Udell, Jie Ni, Angel Garcia Martinez, Megan K. Mulligan, Eva E. Redei, Hao Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The tail immersion assay is a widely used method for measuring acute thermal pain in a way which is quantifiable and reproducible. It is non-invasive and measures response to a stimulus that may be encountered by an animal in its natural environment. However, quantification of tail withdrawal latency relies on manual timing of tail flick using a stopwatch, and precise temperatures of the water at the time of measurement are most often not recorded. These two factors greatly reduce the reproducibility of tail immersion assay data and likely contribute to some of the discrepancies present among relevant literature. We designed a device, TailTimer, which uses a Raspberry Pi single-board computer, a digital temperature sensor, and two electrical wires, to automatically record tail withdrawal latency and water temperature. We programmed TailTimer to continuously display and record water temperature and to only permit the assay to be conducted when the water is within ± 0.25◦C of the target temperature. Our software also records the identification of the animals using a radio frequency identification (RFID) system. We further adapted the RFID system to recognize several specific keys as user interface commands, allowing TailTimer to be operated via RFID fobs for increased usability. Data recorded using the TailTimer device showed a negative linear relationship between tail withdrawal latency and water temperature when tested between 47-50◦C. We also observed a previously unreported, yet profound, effect of water mixing speed on latency. In one experiment using TailTimer, we observed significantly longer latencies following administration of oral oxycodone versus a distilled water control when measured after 15 mins or 1 h, but not after 4 h. TailTimer also detected significant strain differences in baseline latency. These findings valorize TailTimer in its sensitivity and reliability for measuring thermal pain thresholds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0256264
JournalPloS one
Issue number8 August
StatePublished - Aug 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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