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An automated behaviour monitoring tool for zebrafish

The Fish Behaviour Index (FBI) is an automated tool to monitor the behaviour of singly housed zebrafish. By detecting subtle changes in behaviour, the tool can allow quicker welfare assessment, interventions and administration of analgesia, representing an important refinement.

Assessing welfare in fish can be challenging and time-consuming due to the high numbers of animals housed in aquaria, and the often subtle nature of behavioural changes. Currently there are a few convenient or low-cost approaches to identify behavioural and physiological indicators of pain and or/stress. An automated approach is required to assess if behaviour is normal and gauge pain after invasive procedures.

The FBI tool is a robust approach to identify and assess pain in zebrafish that uses a camera and tracking software to track the 3D trajectories of single fish. Evidence has previously shown that normal, healthy zebrafish are usually constantly swimming, using all areas of their tank. After a painful stimulus, fish reduce their swimming activity and increase their use of the bottom of the tank, and this can be prevented with the administration of analgesia.

The FBI can discriminate between baseline healthy behaviour and abnormal behaviour and categorise these into four broad areas (“healthy”, “OK”, “unhealthy” and “abnormal”). The software gives information about “activity” and “distance travelled” as well as the duration of behavioural periods, offering a rating updated in real time (every minute) and designed to characterise fish behaviour as a combination of qualitative and quantitative information. This information can be used by laboratory staff to accurately monitor the welfare of freely moving fish in response to laboratory procedures and provide alerts to enable intervention to improve welfare.

Developed by NC3Rs grant holder Dr Lynne Sneddon and colleagues at the University of Liverpool, the full details of the index can be read in the paper, published in Scientific Reports.

Deakin AG et al. (2019) Automated monitoring of behaviour in zebrafish after invasive procedures. Scientific Reports 9(1): 9042. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-45464-w

You can read more about the tool, including details of its validation, in our news item: A new automated behaviour monitoring tool for zebrafish