Assessment of Motor Coordination and Balance in Mice Using the Rotarod, Elevated Bridge, and Footprint Tests

Simon P. Brooks1, Rebecca C. Trueman1, Stephen B. Dunnett1

1 The Brain Repair Group, School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Mouse Biology
Unit Number:   
DOI:  10.1002/9780470942390.mo110165
Online Posting Date:  March, 2012
GO TO THE FULL TEXT: PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library


In order fully to utilize animal models of disease states, to test experimental therapeutics, and to understand the underlying pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disease, behavioral characterization of the model is essential. Deterioration of normal motor function within a disease state signals the progression of an underlying pathological process, and identifies disease‐sensitive time points according to which the onset of therapeutic trials may be scheduled. Deterioration in the performance of motor tasks may also indicate the point when motor deficits begin to compromise our ability to measure other deficits within cognitive and behavioral domains. In acute therapeutic trials, the separation of motor from cognitive or behavioral function may be crucial in determining the functional specificity of the drug effect. If we are to accurately measure motor performance in disease progression or during drug trials, tests of motor function that have been highly optimized with respect to sensitivity must be applied. Since motor coordination and balance are essential to normal motor function, tests that probe these facets are ideal for the purpose. In this chapter, we describe in detail three test protocols that principally measure motor coordination (the rotarod and footprint tests) and balance (the elevated bridge test) in mice. Curr. Protoc. Mouse Biol. 2:37‐53 © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keywords: rotarod; elevated bridge; footprint; gait; balance; coordination; motor tests; mice

PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Basic Protocol 1: Measuring Motor Coordination and Balance on the Rotarod
  • Basic Protocol 2: Measuring Motor Coordination and Balance on the Elevated Bridge
  • Basic Protocol 3: Gait Analysis Using the Footprint Test
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library


Basic Protocol 1: Measuring Motor Coordination and Balance on the Rotarod

  • The appropriate mouse strain and housing facility
  • 70% ethanol spray and absorbent paper towel for the cleaning of the apparatus
  • A rotarod apparatus, for example the Ugo Basile ( rotarod (Fig. ), which typically comprises:
    • A horizontal rod of 3 cm diameter and 30 cm length
    • A drive motor and pulley system that allows the rod to be turned at multiple speed settings; the simplest versions permit a series of fixed preset speeds, whereas newer apparatus typically includes an accelerating option where the angular velocity increases between preset start and terminal speeds over a fixed time
    • Six partitions of the beam to provide segregated areas for 5 individual mice
    • A trip switch below each segment for measuring the latency to fall from the beam
NOTE: Rotarod speeds should be designed with the severity of disease in mind. There should be at least one slow speed where the majority of mice are able to remain on the beam. Subsequent speeds should ideally produce a data curve that is representative of the disease or treatment severity.NOTE: In‐house construction of a rotarod apparatus is possible with the beam length, diameter, and mouse capacity designed as required. The commercial rotarods may be fitted with a basic gearing system, which is not required if the investigator wishes to run the beam at a single speed. Gearing can be achieved through the use of different gear wheel sizes (Fig. ). Similarly, an electronic trip switch that is fitted to the commercial apparatus is not necessary; as the manual timing of a mouse falling from the beam will suffice, in this instance a stopwatch would be required.NOTE: The rotating rods in commercial apparatus are typically made of Perspex or other plastic and inscribed with horizontal square cut grooves to aid grip. Unlike rats, mice can effective grip on with their claws, hang on, and rotate with the rotating rod. A simple solution to this problem is to re‐cover the rod with a rough rubber surface, such as provided by gluing on a segment of bicycle inner tube. See Commentary for more details.

Basic Protocol 2: Measuring Motor Coordination and Balance on the Elevated Bridge

  • The appropriate mouse strain and housing facility
  • 70% ethanol spray and absorbent paper towel for the cleaning of the apparatus
  • An elevated bridge apparatus (see Fig. ); our current bridge has the following features:
    • An elevated beam of 1 m (but could be shorter) that is inclined at a 17° angle such that the highest point of the beam is 58 cm above the floor; start and stop areas marked on the beam that are 15 cm from the lower end of the beam and 10 cm from the goal box, respectively
    • The beam is tapered in width from 1.2 cm at the start point to 0.5 cm at the stop point with a ledge running the length of either side of the beam that is 2 cm below the level of the beam and 1.5 cm wide
    • A dark goal box ( 10.5 × 10.5 × 10.5 cm) positioned at one end of the beam
  • Towels or other soft material to place beneath the beam.
  • Stopwatch.
  • Video camera, tripod and video tapes.
  • Mouse identification numbers for use with video camera
  • Video viewing facility for scoring the tapes
NOTE: Typically, elevated bridge apparatuses are made in‐house and consequently come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. The one described here is our latest model, based on the original design of Schallert (Schallert et al., ) that has been used extensively on mouse models of neurodegenerative disease. It features a single fixed beam of graduated width rather than the commonly used changeable beam system. Some apparatus designs have a goal box used as a sanctuary that the mice can attain if they run the full length of the beam. Some beam designs have a beam set at an incline. The incline on our current beam is set at 17° from horizontal (plane, or parallel with respect to the ground) with the goal box placed at the highest end, where the beam reaches its narrowest point. The incline can increase the sensitivity of the task, but also seems to encourage the mice to run the beam.NOTE: Two areas of the beam have been designated the “start” and “stop” areas. Essentially, these are simply demarcation lines positioned at either end of the beam designed to allow the operator to start and stop the timing of the animal when running the beam. The start area is the area where the mouse is placed at the onset of the trial and where it will orient itself prior to running the beam. The stop area is the area of the beam where the mouse slows down prior to entering the goal box. The use of these areas permits a more accurate assessment of the traverse speed, as they exclude preparation and goal‐box entering times.NOTE: The use of a ledge on the bridge (Schallert et al., ) permits the accurate assessment of the number of foot slips that the mouse makes as it traverses the beam while allowing the mouse to complete the task. Hind‐limb foot slips are the most sensitive measure of disability in the mouse lines that we have tested (see Fig. ).

Basic Protocol 3: Gait Analysis Using the Footprint Test

  • The appropriate mouse strain and housing facility
  • 70% ethanol spray and absorbent paper towels for the cleaning of the apparatus
  • A corridor runway, 60 cm in length and 5 to 10 cm wide, with side walls high enough to prevent the mice from escaping (Fig. A; see note below)
  • A dark goal box to place at one end of the corridor
  • Two colors of non‐toxic, water‐based paint (children's poster paint is ideal)
  • Small dishes to decant the paint into
  • Paint brush
  • Strips of paper cut to fit the corridor floor. The paper should be stiff and slightly absorbent to provide good paint marking without smearing
  • A 30‐cm ruler and pencil
  • Stopwatch
NOTE: Corridors are usually constructed in house. In our laboratory, we use a 60‐cm‐long corridor for mice (Brooks et al., ). This allows multiple gait cycles to be assessed, reducing variability and increasing the reliability in the scoring. However, the length of the corridor can be varied depending on the requirements/preferences of the experimenters. The width of the corridor can also vary. A narrow corridor of 5 cm is preferable, as it prevents the mouse from meandering as it runs towards the goal box; this improves the quality of the data. Mice also frequently change direction, which will prevent consistent gait cycles from being collected, and a narrow corridor reduces the likelihood of this, while encouraging the mice to head straight to the opposite end of the corridor. If a dark goal box or tunnel is put at the far end of the corridor, it will provide further incentive for the mice.NOTE: A variety of digital apparatuses are available that use treadmill technology and which produce precise, high‐definition images of the mice while running. This approach is highly sensitive, with the main drawback being the expense (see Commentary).
PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library



Literature Cited

Literature Cited
   Amende, I., Kale, A., McCue, S., Glazier, S., Morgan, J.P., and Hampton, T.G. 2005. Gait dynamics in mouse models of Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. J. Neuroeng. Rehabil. 2:20.
   Bensadoun, J.C., Déglon, N., Tseng, J.L., Ridet, J.L., Zurn, A.D., and Aebischer, P. 2000. Lentiviral vectors as a gene delivery system in the mouse midbrain: Cellular and behavioral improvements in a 6‐OHDA model of Parkinson's disease using GDNF. Exp. Neurol. 164:15–24.
   Brooks, S.P., Pask, T., Jones, L., and Dunnett, S.B. 2004. Behavioural profiles of inbred mouse strains used as transgenic backgrounds. I: motor tests. Genes Brain Behav. 3:206‐215.
   Carter, R.J., Lione, L.A., Humby, T., Mangiarini, L., Mahal, A., Bates, G.P., Dunnett, S.B., and Morton, A.J. 1999. Characterization of progressive motor deficits in mice transgenic for the human Huntington's disease mutation. J. Neurosci. 19:3248–3257.
   Clarke, K.A. and Still, J. 1999. Gait analysis in the mouse. Physiol. Behav. 66:723–729.
   Clarke, K.A. and Still, J. 2001. Development and consistency of gait in the mouse. Physiol. Behav. 73:159–164.
   Dunnett, S.B. 2003. Assessment of motor impairments in transgenic mice. In Mouse Behavioral Phenotyping (J.N. Crawley, ed.) pp. 1‐12. Society for Neuroscience, Washington D.C.
   Hilber, P. and Caston, J. 2001. Motor skills and motor learning in Lurcher mutant mice during aging. Neuroscience 102:615–623.
   Kent, S., Hurd, M., and Satinoff, E. 1991. Interactions between body temperature and wheel running over the estrous cycle in rats. Physiol. Behav. 49:1079–1084.
   Kirik, D., Rosenblad, C., and Bjorklund, A. 2000. Preservation of a functional nigrostriatal dopamine pathway by GDNF in the intrastriatal 6‐OHDA lesion model depends on the site of administration of the trophic factor. Eur. J. Neurosci. 12:3871–3882.
   Lalonde, R., Hayzoun, K., Selimi, F., Mariani, J., and Strazielle, C. 2003. Motor coordination in mice with hotfoot, Lurcher, and double mutations of the Grid2 gene encoding the delta‐2 excitatory amino acid receptor. Physiol. Behav. 80:333–339.
   McFadyen, M.P., Kusek, G., Bolivar, V.J., and Flaherty, L. 2003. Differences among eight inbred strains of mice in motor ability and motor learning on a rotorod. Genes Brain Behav. 2:214–219.
   Moffitt, H., McPhail, G.D., Woodman, B., Hobbs, C., and Bates, G.P. 2009. Formation of polyglutamine inclusions in a wide range of non‐CNS tissues in the HdhQ150 knock‐in mouse model of Huntington's disease. PLoS. One 4:e8025.
   Monville, C., Torres, E.M., and Dunnett, S.B. 2006. Comparison of incremental and accelerating protocols of the rotarod test for the assessment of motor deficits in the 6‐OHDA model. J. Neurosci. Methods 158:219–223.
   Sathasivam, K., Hobbs, C., Turmaine, M., Mangiarini, L., Mahal, A., Bertaux, F., Wanker, E.E., Doherty, P., Davies, S.W., and Bates, G.P. 1999. Formation of polyglutamine inclusions in non‐CNS tissue. Hum. Mol. Genet. 8:813–822.
   Schallert, T., Woodlee, M.T., and Fleming, S.M. 2003. Experimental focal ischemic injury: Behavior‐brain interactions and issues of animal handling and housing. ILAR. J. 44:130–143.
   Tarantino, L.M., Gould, T.J., Druhan, J.P., and Bucan, M. 2000. Behavior and mutagenesis screens: The importance of baseline analysis of inbred strains. Mamm. Genome 11:555–564.
   Wooley, C.M., Sher, R.B., Kale, A., Frankel, W.N., Cox, G.A., and Seburn, K.L. 2005. Gait analysis detects early changes in transgenic SOD1(G93A) mice. Muscle Nerve 32:43–50.
PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library