Markerless Motion Tracking of Awake Animals in Positron Emission Tomography

Noninvasive functional imaging of awake, unrestrained small animals using motion-compensation removes the need for anesthetics and enables an animal's behavioral response to stimuli or administered drugs to be studied concurrently with imaging. While the feasibility of motion-compensated radiotracer imaging of awake rodents using marker-based optical motion tracking has been shown, markerless motion tracking would avoid the risk of marker detachment, streamline the experimental workflow, and potentially provide more accurate pose estimates over a greater range of motion. We have developed a stereoscopic tracking system which relies on native features on the head to estimate motion. Features are detected and matched across multiple camera views to accumulate a database of head landmarks and pose is estimated based on 3D-2D registration of the landmarks to features in each image. Pose estimates of a taxidermal rat head phantom undergoing realistic rat head motion via robot control had a root mean square error of 0.15 and 1.8 mm using markerless and marker-based motion tracking, respectively. Markerless motion tracking also led to an appreciable reduction in motion artifacts in motion-compensated positron emission tomography imaging of a live, unanesthetized rat. The results suggest that further improvements in live subjects are likely if nonrigid features are discriminated robustly and excluded from the pose estimation process.