The advent of automated locomotor activity methodologies has been extremely useful in removing the subjectivity and bias out of measuring this parameter in rodents. However, many of these behavioural studies are still conducted in novel environments, rather than in ones that the animals are familiar with, such as their home cage. The purpose of the present series of experiments was to develop an automated home cage tracking (HCT) profile using EthoVision (R) software and assessing the acute effects of stimulant (amphetamine and methamphetamine, 0-5 mg/kg, sc) and sedative (diazepam, 0-20 mg/ka, sc and chlordiazepoxide, 0-50 mg/kg sc) drugs in this apparatus. Young adult male Sprague-Dawley rats were used, and the home cage locomotor activity was recorded for 11-60 min following administration (n = 4 per group). For amphetamine and methamphetamine, a dose-dependent increase in home cage activity was evident for both drugs, with a plateau, followed by reduction at higher doses. Methamphetamine was more potent, whereas amphetamine produced greater maximal responses. Both diazepam and chlordiazepoxide dose-dependently reduced locomotor activity, with diazeparn exhibiting a greater potency and having stronger sedative effects than chlordiazepoxide. Three doses of each drug were selected at the 3 1 40 min time period following administration, and compared to open field responses. Diazepam, chlordiazepoxide and amphetamine did not produce significant changes in the open field, whilst methamphetamine produced a significant increase in the 2.5 mg/kg group. In conclusion, these studies have successfully developed a sensitive HCT methodology that has been validated using drugs with stimulant and sedative properties in the same test conditions, with relatively small numbers of animals required to produce statistically significant results. It has proven superior to the open field investigations in allowing dose-response effects to be observed over a relatively short observation period (i.e. 10 min) for both stimulants and sedatives. In addition, the HCT system can determine differences in potency and efficacy between drugs of a similar chemical class. (c) 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.