ezTrack: An open-source video analysis pipeline for the investigation of animal behavior


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Tracking small animal behavior by video is one of the most common tasks in the fields of neuroscience and psychology. Although commercial software exists for the execution of this task, this software often presents enormous cost to the researcher, and can also entail purchasing specific hardware setups that are not only expensive but lack adaptability. Moreover, the inaccessibility of the code underlying this software renders them inflexible. Alternatively, available open source options frequently require extensive model training and can be challenging for those inexperienced with programming. Here we present an open source and platform independent set of behavior analysis pipelines using interactive Python (iPython/Jupyter Notebook) that researchers with no prior programming experience can use. Two modules are described. One module can be used for the positional analysis of an individual animal across a session (i.e., location tracking), amenable to a wide range of behavioral tasks including conditioned place preference, water maze, light-dark box, open field, and elevated plus maze, to name but a few. A second module is described for the analysis of conditioned freezing behavior. For both modules, a range of interactive plots and visualizations are available to confirm that chosen parameters produce results that conform to user approval. In addition, batch processing tools for the fast analysis of multiple videos is provided, and frame-by-frame output makes aligning the data with neural recording data simple. Lastly, options for cropping video frames to mitigate the influence of fiberoptic/electrophysiology cables, analyzing specified portions of time in a video, and defining regions of interest, can be implemented with ease.
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