Self Head-Restraining Platform

High-throughput behavioral testing systems that enable real-time measurements of neural activity with unprecedented precision.

An automated platform with voluntary head fixation

Enables integration of high-throughput behavioral tests with real-time neural circuit monitoring under voluntary head fixation.

The ability to record neural activity during ongoing behavior provides an opportunity to understand brain function at a new level of detail. Head-fixed behavioral assays are perfect for this purpose because they allow real-time monitoring of neural circuits during complex behaviors. However, traditional head-fixed assays are extremely laborious and time-consuming. Using the self head-restraining platform, mice learn to voluntarily head fix themselves during operant training, greatly minimizing experimenter labor and streamlining data collection. The Self Head-Restraining Platform connects to the homecage providing a lower-stress learning environment. A single platform has the capacity to train up to 4 mice per day, but can be scaled up to train up to 48 mice per day for high-throughput data collection. Once head fixation is learned, the self-restraining platform can be easily integrated with existing electrophysiological recording, imaging or optogenetic stimulation.
  • Mice learn voluntary head fixation in as little as two weeks, saving you time to focus on your science.
  • This system is fully automated, removing unwanted experimenter bias and reducing experimenter labor.
  • Train anywhere from 4 – 48 mice per day for high-throughput data collection, allowing you to generate high quality data fast!
  • Includes a weigh scale for automated weight-monitoring.
  • Combine the self-restraint platform with your existing imaging, electrophysiology and optogenetic setups.

What is unique about the Self Head-Restraining Platform?

Head fixation during voluntary behavior has revolutionized modern Neuroscience by making it possible to examine neural activity in real-time as animals perform tasks.  However, training animals to perform tasks while under head fixation is extremely time-consuming and labor intensive limiting throughput of data collection. The Self Head-Restraining Platform solves this issue by automating the entire learning process:

  • Attaches to the home cage creating a low stress environment and allowing animals to learn on their own time.
  • Animals have access to the platform between 4-6 hours per day, providing extended opportunity for animals to self-latch. 
  • After self head-fixation, the latching unit automatically releases the animals after 20 min allowing them to return for the home cage. 


How it Works: Steps to Voluntary Head Fixation
with the Self Head-Restraining Platform 

The sequence of steps leading to head fixation. The head plate (black bar on mouse’s head) is progressively restrained into rails that get narrower as the animal moves forward(1,2). The forward motion of the head plate mechanically lifts the latching pins, which are then lowered back down due to gravity (3,4). Continued forward movement by the animal then lifts and lowers the second set of pins (4). After the session ends, a computer controlled motor lifts up both pins and releases the animal ( adapted from Ohara & Co., LTD & Benucci et al., 2018). 

How it Works: How long does it take for mice to learn to headfix themselves?

Training mice to be comfortable performing tasks under head fixation is extremely labor intensive and can take up to several months. With the self-restraint platform, mice are given access to the self-latching system 4-6 hours a day in 20-30 minute intervals, and learn self-latching in as little as 2 weeks. Habituation plays a key role in this process. 

  • Habituation: 1-2 weeks
  • Self-latching for water reward: 1 week

What is habituation?

During Habituation, mice are given access to a clear PVC tube in the home cage with narrowing rails to attach the head plate as the mouse enters. Once attached, mice can lick a spout connected to a watering system on the outside of the cage for a water reward.

Components: Habituation Tube + water supply setup for home cage.

How it works: Self Head-Restraining Platform main setup and design.

The self-restraint platform consists of the following  main components:

  • T-shaped assembly of transparent PVC pipes connecting two mouse cages to a latching unit.
  • Access to the tubes is controlled by motorized duralumin doors that give mice access to the tubes but prevent mice from entering other cages.
  • IR sensors that allow precise monitoring of animal position.
  • A scale in the middle of the central tube for automated weight measurements.
  • A servo-controlled latching system designed to minimize the animal’s stress due to head fixation.
  • Two sets of metal pins on top of the training rails at the end of the central tube that hold the animal in place.
  • A water spout with a latching sensor that initiates the software to to start the training session.
  • A servo motor actuator that lifts both sets of pins after the training session allowing the animal to return to the homecage.

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Mice learn complex tasks under head fixation
Benucci and colleagues demonstrated mice learning a two-alternative forced choice visual discrimination task relying on binocular vision. Mice had to indicate whether the orientation was clockwise or counter clockwise by rotating a wheel with their front paws (2017).

In vivo physiology combined with complex task tearing under head fixation
Benucci and colleagues demonstrated that two-photon laser scanning microscopy could be performed during voluntary head fixation to monitor calcium responses of individual cells as mice learned a visual discrimination task (2017).

Selected Publications

Aoki, R., Tsubota, T., Goya, Y., Benucci, A. (2017) An automated platform for high-throughput mouse behavior and physiology with voluntary head-fixation. Nature Comms., 8: 1196


Moving neuroscience into the fast lane

“A new high-throughput system with an industrial approach can standardize experiments to facilitate reproducibility and data sharing.

At the RIKEN Brain Science Institute in Japan, a two-year project from Andrea Benucci’s research group and O’Hara and Co LTD. has culminated in the construction and deployment of a high-throughput system to study mouse behavior and physiology. The system aims to deliver larger, standardized datasets, a reduction in the number of experimental animals, and time-savings through complete automation.”

Read the full post from Science Daily here:

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