Validation of video motion-detection scoring of forced swim test in mice

Vance Gao*, Martha Hotz Vitaterna, Fred W. Turek

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: The forced swim test (FST) is used to predict the effectiveness of novel antidepressant treatments. In this test, a mouse or rat is placed in a beaker of water for several minutes, and the amount of time spent passively floating is measured; antidepressants reduce the amount of such immobility. Though the FST is commonly used, manually scoring the test is time-consuming and involves considerable subjectivity. New method: We developed a simple MATLAB-based motion-detection method to quantify mice's activity in videos of FST. FST trials are video-recorded from a side view. Each pixel of the video is compared between subsequent video frames; if the pixel's color difference surpasses a threshold, a motion count is recorded. Results: Human-scored immobility time correlates well with total motion detected by the computer (r= -0.80) and immobility time determined by the computer (r= 0.83). Our computer method successfully detects group differences in activity between genotypes and different days of testing. Furthermore, we observe heterosis for this behavior, in which (C57BL/6J. ×. A/J) F1 hybrid mice are more active in the FST than the parental strains. Comparison with existing methods: This computer-scoring method is much faster and more objective than human scoring. Other automatic scoring methods exist, but they require the purchase of expensive hardware and/or software. Conclusion: This computer-scoring method is an effective, fast, and low-cost method of quantifying the FST. It is validated by replicating statistical differences observed in traditional visual scoring. We also demonstrate a case of heterosis in the FST.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)59-64
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neuroscience Methods
StatePublished - Sep 30 2014


  • Automation
  • Depression
  • Forced swim test
  • Heterosis
  • Overdominance
  • Strain differences
  • Video analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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