Laboratory of Animal Behavior

Ilan Golani,
Professor of Zoology,
Department of Zoology,
Faculty of Life Sciences,
Tel Aviv University,
Tel Aviv,

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Research in the interface between

Behaviour, Computation, Statistics and Genetics

We presently focus on two projects:

  1. Motor coordination. Our current treatment of this subject is illustrated in two recent papers that can be downloaded below (Kafkafi et al., 1996; Kafkafi and Golani, 1998), and by two animations, prepared by Neri Kafkafi, which accompany the second of the two papers ("A traveling wave of lateral movement coordinates...."). The first animation explains the application of the concept of relative phase to unrestrained locomotor behavior. You would first have to download  Mathreader and then click Animation of relative phase(3.6 Mb).
    The second animation shows that ferret locomotor behavior involves a travelling, rather than a standing wave of lateral movement. This is accomplished by coloring each of the parts of the body of the animated animal in correspondence with its current phase of movement. To see it click   Phase animation in ferret. (2.2 Mb).

  2. Algorithmic definitions of behavior patterns in mice and their utility in genetic research. Collaborative research is  performed in Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center (MPRC) in Baltimore.  In TAU it is performed by a team including  zoologists and statisticians. The project involves the use of large data bases and scientific visualization. For further information write to:  see also Prof. Yoav Benjamini, and Dr. Neri Kafkafi .

For details on current projects see:

  1. SEE: a tool for the visualization and analysis of rodent exploratory behavior.
  2. Phenotyping mouse exploratory behavior (2.2 Mb).

Our research on mouse behavior:

The focus in the next stages of genomic research will undoubtedly be on comparative analysis of genomes. "Expression" and "function" are the watch words of the new era. Perhaps the most intriguing question in this quest is that of the relationship between genomes and behavioral phenotypes. A major stumbling block in this quest, however, is the lack of analytic tools on the behavior side of the genome/behavior interface. Ethology ,neuroethology, behavioral pharmacology and behavioral neuroscience failed to develop a methodology that can handle the representation of free whole-animal behavior at a level of articulation and rigor be fitting that employed on the genome side.

We are a research team currently engaged in developing such a methodology. Our team  includes several zoologists (Ilan Golani, Dina lipkind, Ehud Fonio, Guy Horev, Eyal Gruntman, Anna Dvorkin, Eran Polosetski, Tel Aviv, and Neri Kafkafi, Baltimore, The Maryland Psychiatric Research Institute,  two statisticians (Yoav Benjamini, and Anat Sakov, Tel Aviv),  and a neurobiologist ( Greg Elmer, The Maryland Psychiatric Research Institute, Baltimore). Because the mouse has now become the experimental animal par excellence of Behavior Genetics, our work is centered on mice. In work already done by us and by others, it has been shown that contrary to what was common belief, rodent free locomotor behavior is quite structured. In the last few years we have developed interactive software for analyzing this structure. This software can visualize and quantify the patterns, using as input the automatically digitized time-series of the animal's location (for a video clip illustrating the tracking process of the behavior of a rat in a large 6.5m diameter arena see "Tracking of rat exploratory behavior" (28.5 Mb) and producing as output, key parameters that characterize the behavior. These parameters are relatively independent of each other, and reveal a natural structure that is relatively independent of the animal's level of activity. They reflect processes involving motivation, navigation, spatial memory and learning. They can be measured automatically and efficiently in very large numbers of mice (high throughput) and their listing should result in an objective algorithmic definition of species- and strain-specific behavior.

Having at hand a long list of numerical values that summarize structural differences between genetically distinct mouse strains whose genetic map is at a relatively advanced stage of construction introduces two statistical problems: that of the False Discovery Rate (FDR; Benjamini and Hochberg, 1995) stemming from the simultaneous performance of multiple comparisons (by increasing the probability of apparently significant differences), and that of using the Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL) approach, in order to map the location of genes having specific behavioral function on the chromosome. Studying these multiple relations between a large number of  locations on the genome and long lists of behavioral endpoints require an extensive interaction between the members of our group.

Our laboratory is fully equipped to perform state of the-art behavior research, and  works closely with the Maryland Psychiatric Institute and the Tennessee Mouse Genome Consortium, to produce a diverse and vibrant research environment. Our mission includes the creation of large databases available to all, and the development of analytical tools to support their use.


Links to recent articles:

Controlling the false discovery rate in behavior genetics research.
Behavioural Brain Research Volume 125,Issues 1-2
8 November 2001, Pages 279-284
Yoav Benjamini, Dan Drai, Greg Elmer, Neri Kafkafi and Ilan Golani
  The journal

Rats and mice share common ethologically relevant parameters of exploratory behavior.
Behavioural Brain Research Volume 125, Issues 1-2
8 November 2001 Pages 133-140
Dan Drai, Neri Kafkafi, Yoav Benjamini, Greg Elmer and Ilan Golani
The journal

SEE: a tool for the visualization and analysis of rodent exploratory behavior.
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 25 (2001) 5,
Pages 409-426
Dan Drai and Ilan Golani
The journal

Natural segmentation of the locomotor behavior of drug-induced rats in a photobeam cage.
Neri Kafkafi, Cheryl Mayo, Dan Drai, Ilan Golani and Greg Elmer

Phenotyping stereotypic behaviour: collective variables, range of variation and predictability.
 I. Golani, N.Kafkafi, D. Drai.

Volume 65 (1999) 191-220 Applied Animal Behavior Science
Download abstract here

The dynamics of long-term exploration in the rat
Ofer Tchernichovski , Yoav Benjamini , Ilan Golani
Vo78, Issue 6, pp 423-432
Biological Cybernetics, Jul 20, 1998
Download article in PDF format here

The dynamics of long term exploration in the rat
Ofer Tchernichovski , Yoav Benjamini
Volume 78, Issue 6, pp 433-440
Biological Cybernetics, Jul 20, 1998
Download article in PDF format here

Statistical discrimination of natural modes of motion in rat exploratory behavior
Dan Drai, Yoav Benjamini, Ilan Golani
Volume (issue): 96 (2) 2000
Journal of Neuroscience Methods
Download article in PDF format here

(For a video clip illustrating the phenomenon which is the subject of this paper: alternation between progression and stayingin place behavior click "alternation between lingering and progression in exploratory behavior of a wild Rattus norvegicus "(27.5 Mb)).

Coordination of side-to-side head movements and walking in amphetamine-treated rats:
a stereotyped motor pattern as a stable equilibrium in a dynamical system
Neri Kafkafi , Stavit Levi-Havusha , Ilan Golani , Yoav Benjamini
Volume 74, Issue 6, pp 487-495
Biological Cybernetics, Feb 14, 1996
Download abstract here

A traveling wave of lateral movement coordinates both turning and forward walking in the ferret
Neri Kafkafi , Ilan Golani
Volume 78, Issue 6, pp 441-453
Biological Cybernetics, Jul 20, 1998
Download article in PDF format here

Controlling the False Discovery Rate: a practical and powerful approach to multiple testing.
Benjamini Y, Hochberg Y (1995)

Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, SeriesB, 57, 1, 289-300.
Download abstract here

A mobility gradient in the organization of vertebrate movement: The perception of movement through symbolic language.
Golani I (1992) 

SEE locomotor behavior test discriminates C57BL/6J and DBA/2J mouse inbred strains across laboratories and protocol conditions
Kafkafi N, Lipkind D, Benjamini Y, Mayo CL, Elmer GI, Golani I



Darting behavior: a quantitative movement pattern designed for discrimination and replicability in mouse locomotor behavior
Kafkafi N, Pagis M, Lipkind D, Mayo CL, Benjamini Y, Golani I, Elmer GI

BEHAVIOURAL BRAIN RESEARCH 142 (1-2): 193-205 JUN 16 2003


The Dynamics of Spatial Behavior: How can robust smoothing techniques help?
Hen I, Sakov A, Kafkafi N, Golani I, Benjamini Y

JOURNAL OF NEUROSCIENCE METHODS 133 (1-2): 161-172 FEB 15 2004


New replicable anxiety-related measures of wall vs. center behavior of mice in the open field
Lipkind D, Sakov A, Kafkafi N, Elmer GI, Benjamini Y, Golani I



Locomotor and exploratory behaviour. In The Behavior of the Laboratory Rat A Handbook with Tests Edited by Ian Q. Whishaw and Bryan Kolb.
Golani I, Benjamini Y, Dvorkin A, Lipkind D, Kafkafi N

Oxford University Press.


Extending SEE for large-scale phenotyping of mouse open-field behavior
Kafkafi N



Genotype-Environment Interactions in Mouse Behavior: A Way Out of the Problem
Kafkafi N, Benjamini Y, Sakov A, Elmer G, Golani I

Communicated paper to PNAS; Revised version in review.


Texture of locomotor path: a replicable characterization of a complex behavioral phenotype.
Kafkafi N, Sakov A, Elmer G

Revised version submitted to GENES, BRAIN, AND BEHAVIOR.