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Mol Pain. 2018 Jan-Dec;14:1744806918763658. doi: 10.1177/1744806918763658.

A deep neural network to assess spontaneous pain from mouse facial expressions.

Author information

1 Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, UNC Neuroscience Center, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.
2 Department of Psychology, Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.
3 Department of Psychiatry, Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


Grimace scales quantify characteristic facial expressions associated with spontaneous pain in rodents and other mammals. However, these scales have not been widely adopted largely because of the time and effort required for highly trained humans to manually score the images. Convoluted neural networks were recently developed that distinguish individual humans and objects in images. Here, we trained one of these networks, the InceptionV3 convolutional neural net, with a large set of human-scored mouse images. Output consists of a binary pain/no-pain assessment and a confidence score. Our automated Mouse Grimace Scale integrates these two outputs and is highly accurate (94%) at assessing the presence of pain in mice across different experimental assays. In addition, we used a novel set of "pain" and "no pain" images to show that automated Mouse Grimace Scale scores are highly correlated with human scores (Pearson's r = 0.75). Moreover, the automated Mouse Grimace Scale classified a greater proportion of images as "pain" following laparotomy surgery when compared to animals receiving a sham surgery or a post-surgical analgesic. Together, these findings suggest that the automated Mouse Grimace Scale can eliminate the need for tedious human scoring of images and provide an objective and rapid way to quantify spontaneous pain and pain relief in mice.


Spontaneous pain; animal models; facial expressions; machine learning

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