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An investigation into the cognition behind spontaneous string pulling in New Caledonian crows.
PUBLISHED: 02-22-2010
The ability of some bird species to pull up meat hung on a string is a famous example of spontaneous animal problem solving. The "insight" hypothesis claims that this complex behaviour is based on cognitive abilities such as mental scenario building and imagination. An operant conditioning account, in contrast, would claim that this spontaneity is due to each action in string pulling being reinforced by the meat moving closer and remaining closer to the bird on the perch. We presented experienced and naïve New Caledonian crows with a novel, visually restricted string-pulling problem that reduced the quality of visual feedback during string pulling. Experienced crows solved this problem with reduced efficiency and increased errors compared to their performance in standard string pulling. Naïve crows either failed or solved the problem by trial and error learning. However, when visual feedback was available via a mirror mounted next to the apparatus, two naïve crows were able to perform at the same level as the experienced group. Our results raise the possibility that spontaneous string pulling in New Caledonian crows may not be based on insight but on operant conditioning mediated by a perceptual-motor feedback cycle.
Piloting and dead reckoning navigation strategies use very different cue constellations and computational processes (Darwin, 1873; Barlow, 1964; O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; Mittelstaedt and Mittelstaedt, 1980; Landeau et al., 1984; Etienne, 1987; Gallistel, 1990; Maurer and Séguinot, 1995). Piloting requires the use of the relationships between relatively stable external (visual, olfactory, auditory) cues, whereas dead reckoning requires the integration of cues generated by self-movement. Animals obtain self-movement information from vestibular receptors, and possibly muscle and joint receptors, and efference copy of commands that generate movement. An animal may also use the flows of visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli caused by its movements. Using a piloting strategy an animal can use geometrical calculations to determine directions and distances to places in its environment, whereas using an dead reckoning strategy it can integrate cues generated by its previous movements to return to a just left location. Dead reckoning is colloquially called "sense of direction" and "sense of distance." Although there is considerable evidence that the hippocampus is involved in piloting (O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; O’Keefe and Speakman, 1987), there is also evidence from behavioral (Whishaw et al., 1997; Whishaw and Maaswinkel, 1998; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999), modeling (Samsonovich and McNaughton, 1997), and electrophysiological (O’Mare et al., 1994; Sharp et al., 1995; Taube and Burton, 1995; Blair and Sharp, 1996; McNaughton et al., 1996; Wiener, 1996; Golob and Taube, 1997) studies that the hippocampal formation is involved in dead reckoning. The relative contribution of the hippocampus to the two forms of navigation is still uncertain, however. Ordinarily, it is difficult to be certain that an animal is using a piloting versus a dead reckoning strategy because animals are very flexible in their use of strategies and cues (Etienne et al., 1996; Dudchenko et al., 1997; Martin et al., 1997; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999). The objective of the present video demonstrations was to solve the problem of cue specification in order to examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus in the use of these strategies. The rats were trained in a new task in which they followed linear or polygon scented trails to obtain a large food pellet hidden on an open field. Because rats have a proclivity to carry the food back to the refuge, accuracy and the cues used to return to the home base were dependent variables (Whishaw and Tomie, 1997). To force an animal to use a a dead reckoning strategy to reach its refuge with the food, the rats were tested when blindfolded or under infrared light, a spectral wavelength in which they cannot see, and in some experiments the scent trail was additionally removed once an animal reached the food. To examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus, fimbria–fornix (FF) lesions, which disrupt information flow in the hippocampal formation (Bland, 1986), impair memory (Gaffan and Gaffan, 1991), and produce spatial deficits (Whishaw and Jarrard, 1995), were used.
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Procedures for Identifying Infectious Prions After Passage Through the Digestive System of an Avian Species
Authors: Justin W Fischer, Tracy A Nichols, Gregory E Phillips, Kurt C VerCauteren.
Institutions: USDA.
Infectious prion (PrPRes) material is likely the cause of fatal, neurodegenerative transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSE) diseases1. Transmission of TSE diseases, such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), is presumed to be from animal to animal2,3 as well as from environmental sources4-6. Scavengers and carnivores have potential to translocate PrPRes material through consumption and excretion of CWD-contaminated carrion. Recent work has documented passage of PrPRes material through the digestive system of American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), a common North American scavenger7. We describe procedures used to document passage of PrPRes material through American crows. Crows were gavaged with RML-strain mouse-adapted scrapie and their feces were collected 4 hr post gavage. Crow feces were then pooled and injected intraperitoneally into C57BL/6 mice. Mice were monitored daily until they expressed clinical signs of mouse scrapie and were thereafter euthanized. Asymptomatic mice were monitored until 365 days post inoculation. Western blot analysis was conducted to confirm disease status. Results revealed that prions remain infectious after traveling through the digestive system of crows and are present in the feces, causing disease in test mice.
Infection, Issue 81, American crows, feces, mouse model, prion detection, PrPRes, scrapie, TSE transmission
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A Novel Surgical Approach for Intratracheal Administration of Bioactive Agents in a Fetal Mouse Model
Authors: Marianne S. Carlon, Jaan Toelen, Marina Mori da Cunha, Dragana Vidović, Anke Van der Perren, Steffi Mayer, Lourenço Sbragia, Johan Nuyts, Uwe Himmelreich, Zeger Debyser, Jan Deprest.
Institutions: KU Leuven, KU Leuven, KU Leuven, KU Leuven, KU Leuven.
Prenatal pulmonary delivery of cells, genes or pharmacologic agents could provide the basis for new therapeutic strategies for a variety of genetic and acquired diseases. Apart from congenital or inherited abnormalities with the requirement for long-term expression of the delivered gene, several non-inherited perinatal conditions, where short-term gene expression or pharmacological intervention is sufficient to achieve therapeutic effects, are considered as potential future indications for this kind of approach. Candidate diseases for the application of short-term prenatal therapy could be the transient neonatal deficiency of surfactant protein B causing neonatal respiratory distress syndrome1,2 or hyperoxic injuries of the neonatal lung3. Candidate diseases for permanent therapeutic correction are Cystic Fibrosis (CF)4, genetic variants of surfactant deficiencies5 and α1-antitrypsin deficiency6. Generally, an important advantage of prenatal gene therapy is the ability to start therapeutic intervention early in development, at or even prior to clinical manifestations in the patient, thus preventing irreparable damage to the individual. In addition, fetal organs have an increased cell proliferation rate as compared to adult organs, which could allow a more efficient gene or stem cell transfer into the fetus. Furthermore, in utero gene delivery is performed when the individual's immune system is not completely mature. Therefore, transplantation of heterologous cells or supplementation of a non-functional or absent protein with a correct version should not cause immune sensitization to the cell, vector or transgene product, which has recently been proven to be the case with both cellular and genetic therapies7. In the present study, we investigated the potential to directly target the fetal trachea in a mouse model. This procedure is in use in larger animal models such as rabbits and sheep8, and even in a clinical setting9, but has to date not been performed before in a mouse model. When studying the potential of fetal gene therapy for genetic diseases such as CF, the mouse model is very useful as a first proof-of-concept because of the wide availability of different transgenic mouse strains, the well documented embryogenesis and fetal development, less stringent ethical regulations, short gestation and the large litter size. Different access routes have been described to target the fetal rodent lung, including intra-amniotic injection10-12, (ultrasound-guided) intrapulmonary injection13,14 and intravenous administration into the yolk sac vessels15,16 or umbilical vein17. Our novel surgical procedure enables researchers to inject the agent of choice directly into the fetal mouse trachea which allows for a more efficient delivery to the airways than existing techniques18.
Medicine, Issue 68, Fetal, intratracheal, intra-amniotic, cross-fostering, lung, microsurgery, gene therapy, mice, rAAV
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Isolation and Th17 Differentiation of Naïve CD4 T Lymphocytes
Authors: Simone K. Bedoya, Tenisha D. Wilson, Erin L. Collins, Kenneth Lau, Joseph Larkin III.
Institutions: The University of Florida.
Th17 cells are a distinct subset of T cells that have been found to produce interleukin 17 (IL-17), and differ in function from the other T cell subsets including Th1, Th2, and regulatory T cells. Th17 cells have emerged as a central culprit in overzealous inflammatory immune responses associated with many autoimmune disorders. In this method we purify T lymphocytes from the spleen and lymph nodes of C57BL/6 mice, and stimulate purified CD4+ T cells under control and Th17-inducing environments. The Th17-inducing environment includes stimulation in the presence of anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 antibodies, IL-6, and TGF-β. After incubation for at least 72 hours and for up to five days at 37 °C, cells are subsequently analyzed for the capability to produce IL-17 through flow cytometry, qPCR, and ELISAs. Th17 differentiated CD4+CD25- T cells can be utilized to further elucidate the role that Th17 cells play in the onset and progression of autoimmunity and host defense. Moreover, Th17 differentiation of CD4+CD25- lymphocytes from distinct murine knockout/disease models can contribute to our understanding of cell fate plasticity.
Immunology, Issue 79, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Infection, Th17 cells, IL-17, Th17 differentiation, T cells, autoimmunity, cell, isolation, culture
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Using Continuous Data Tracking Technology to Study Exercise Adherence in Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Authors: Amanda K. Rizk, Rima Wardini, Emilie Chan-Thim, Barbara Trutschnigg, Amélie Forget, Véronique Pepin.
Institutions: Concordia University, Concordia University, Hôpital du Sacré-Coeur de Montréal.
Pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) is an important component in the management of respiratory diseases. The effectiveness of PR is dependent upon adherence to exercise training recommendations. The study of exercise adherence is thus a key step towards the optimization of PR programs. To date, mostly indirect measures, such as rates of participation, completion, and attendance, have been used to determine adherence to PR. The purpose of the present protocol is to describe how continuous data tracking technology can be used to measure adherence to a prescribed aerobic training intensity on a second-by-second basis. In our investigations, adherence has been defined as the percent time spent within a specified target heart rate range. As such, using a combination of hardware and software, heart rate is measured, tracked, and recorded during cycling second-by-second for each participant, for each exercise session. Using statistical software, the data is subsequently extracted and analyzed. The same protocol can be applied to determine adherence to other measures of exercise intensity, such as time spent at a specified wattage, level, or speed on the cycle ergometer. Furthermore, the hardware and software is also available to measure adherence to other modes of training, such as the treadmill, elliptical, stepper, and arm ergometer. The present protocol, therefore, has a vast applicability to directly measure adherence to aerobic exercise.
Medicine, Issue 81, Data tracking, exercise, rehabilitation, adherence, patient compliance, health behavior, user-computer interface.
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Network Analysis of the Default Mode Network Using Functional Connectivity MRI in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy
Authors: Zulfi Haneef, Agatha Lenartowicz, Hsiang J. Yeh, Jerome Engel Jr., John M. Stern.
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) is an fMRI method that examines the connectivity of different brain areas based on the correlation of BOLD signal fluctuations over time. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE) is the most common type of adult epilepsy and involves multiple brain networks. The default mode network (DMN) is involved in conscious, resting state cognition and is thought to be affected in TLE where seizures cause impairment of consciousness. The DMN in epilepsy was examined using seed based fcMRI. The anterior and posterior hubs of the DMN were used as seeds in this analysis. The results show a disconnection between the anterior and posterior hubs of the DMN in TLE during the basal state. In addition, increased DMN connectivity to other brain regions in left TLE along with decreased connectivity in right TLE is revealed. The analysis demonstrates how seed-based fcMRI can be used to probe cerebral networks in brain disorders such as TLE.
Medicine, Issue 90, Default Mode Network (DMN), Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (TLE), fMRI, MRI, functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI), blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD)
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A Fully Automated Rodent Conditioning Protocol for Sensorimotor Integration and Cognitive Control Experiments
Authors: Ali Mohebi, Karim G. Oweiss.
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
Rodents have been traditionally used as a standard animal model in laboratory experiments involving a myriad of sensory, cognitive, and motor tasks. Higher cognitive functions that require precise control over sensorimotor responses such as decision-making and attentional modulation, however, are typically assessed in nonhuman primates. Despite the richness of primate behavior that allows multiple variants of these functions to be studied, the rodent model remains an attractive, cost-effective alternative to primate models. Furthermore, the ability to fully automate operant conditioning in rodents adds unique advantages over the labor intensive training of nonhuman primates while studying a broad range of these complex functions. Here, we introduce a protocol for operantly conditioning rats on performing working memory tasks. During critical epochs of the task, the protocol ensures that the animal's overt movement is minimized by requiring the animal to 'fixate' until a Go cue is delivered, akin to nonhuman primate experimental design. A simple two alternative forced choice task is implemented to demonstrate the performance. We discuss the application of this paradigm to other tasks.
Behavior, Issue 86, operant conditioning, cognitive function, sensorimotor integration, decision making, Neurophysiology
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Intraspinal Cell Transplantation for Targeting Cervical Ventral Horn in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury
Authors: Angelo C. Lepore.
Institutions: Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.
Respiratory compromise due to phrenic motor neuron loss is a debilitating consequence of a large proportion of human traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) cases 1 and is the ultimate cause of death in patients with the motor neuron disorder, amyotrophic laterals sclerosis (ALS) 2. ALS is a devastating neurological disorder that is characterized by relatively rapid degeneration of upper and lower motor neurons. Patients ultimately succumb to the disease on average 2-5 years following diagnosis because of respiratory paralysis due to loss of phrenic motor neuron innnervation of the diaphragm 3. The vast majority of cases are sporadic, while 10% are of the familial form. Approximately twenty percent of familial cases are linked to various point mutations in the Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase 1 (SOD1) gene on chromosome 21 4. Transgenic mice 4,5 and rats 6 carrying mutant human SOD1 genes (G93A, G37R, G86R, G85R) have been generated, and, despite the existence of other animal models of motor neuron loss, are currently the most highly used models of the disease. Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a heterogeneous set of conditions resulting from physical trauma to the spinal cord, with functional outcome varying according to the type, location and severity of the injury 7. Nevertheless, approximately half of human SCI cases affect cervical regions, resulting in debilitating respiratory dysfunction due to phrenic motor neuron loss and injury to descending bulbospinal respiratory axons 1. A number of animal models of SCI have been developed, with the most commonly used and clinically-relevant being the contusion 8. Transplantation of various classes of neural precursor cells (NPCs) is a promising therapeutic strategy for treatment of traumatic CNS injuries and neurodegeneration, including ALS and SCI, because of the ability to replace lost or dysfunctional CNS cell types, provide neuroprotection, and deliver gene factors of interest 9. Animal models of both ALS and SCI can model many clinically-relevant aspects of these diseases, including phrenic motor neuron loss and consequent respiratory compromise 10,11. In order to evaluate the efficacy of NPC-based strategies on respiratory function in these animal models of ALS and SCI, cellular interventions must be specifically directed to regions containing therapeutically relevant targets such as phrenic motor neurons. We provide a detailed protocol for multi-segmental, intraspinal transplantation of NPCs into the cervical spinal cord ventral gray matter of neurodegenerative models such as SOD1G93A mice and rats, as well as spinal cord injured rats and mice 11.
Medicine, Issue 55, cell transplantation, engraftment, graft, spinal cord, stem cells, precursors, ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, motor neuron, SCI, spinal cord injury
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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Methods to Explore the Influence of Top-down Visual Processes on Motor Behavior
Authors: Jillian Nguyen, Thomas V. Papathomas, Jay H. Ravaliya, Elizabeth B. Torres.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Kinesthetic awareness is important to successfully navigate the environment. When we interact with our daily surroundings, some aspects of movement are deliberately planned, while others spontaneously occur below conscious awareness. The deliberate component of this dichotomy has been studied extensively in several contexts, while the spontaneous component remains largely under-explored. Moreover, how perceptual processes modulate these movement classes is still unclear. In particular, a currently debated issue is whether the visuomotor system is governed by the spatial percept produced by a visual illusion or whether it is not affected by the illusion and is governed instead by the veridical percept. Bistable percepts such as 3D depth inversion illusions (DIIs) provide an excellent context to study such interactions and balance, particularly when used in combination with reach-to-grasp movements. In this study, a methodology is developed that uses a DII to clarify the role of top-down processes on motor action, particularly exploring how reaches toward a target on a DII are affected in both deliberate and spontaneous movement domains.
Behavior, Issue 86, vision for action, vision for perception, motor control, reach, grasp, visuomotor, ventral stream, dorsal stream, illusion, space perception, depth inversion
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g., food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides. We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
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Recording Single Neurons' Action Potentials from Freely Moving Pigeons Across Three Stages of Learning
Authors: Sarah Starosta, Maik C. Stüttgen, Onur Güntürkün.
Institutions: Ruhr-University Bochum.
While the subject of learning has attracted immense interest from both behavioral and neural scientists, only relatively few investigators have observed single-neuron activity while animals are acquiring an operantly conditioned response, or when that response is extinguished. But even in these cases, observation periods usually encompass only a single stage of learning, i.e. acquisition or extinction, but not both (exceptions include protocols employing reversal learning; see Bingman et al.1 for an example). However, acquisition and extinction entail different learning mechanisms and are therefore expected to be accompanied by different types and/or loci of neural plasticity. Accordingly, we developed a behavioral paradigm which institutes three stages of learning in a single behavioral session and which is well suited for the simultaneous recording of single neurons' action potentials. Animals are trained on a single-interval forced choice task which requires mapping each of two possible choice responses to the presentation of different novel visual stimuli (acquisition). After having reached a predefined performance criterion, one of the two choice responses is no longer reinforced (extinction). Following a certain decrement in performance level, correct responses are reinforced again (reacquisition). By using a new set of stimuli in every session, animals can undergo the acquisition-extinction-reacquisition process repeatedly. Because all three stages of learning occur in a single behavioral session, the paradigm is ideal for the simultaneous observation of the spiking output of multiple single neurons. We use pigeons as model systems, but the task can easily be adapted to any other species capable of conditioned discrimination learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, pigeon, single unit recording, learning, memory, extinction, spike sorting, operant conditioning, reward, electrophysiology, animal cognition, model species
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A Lightweight, Headphones-based System for Manipulating Auditory Feedback in Songbirds
Authors: Lukas A. Hoffmann, Conor W. Kelly, David A. Nicholson, Samuel J. Sober.
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University, Emory University.
Experimental manipulations of sensory feedback during complex behavior have provided valuable insights into the computations underlying motor control and sensorimotor plasticity1. Consistent sensory perturbations result in compensatory changes in motor output, reflecting changes in feedforward motor control that reduce the experienced feedback error. By quantifying how different sensory feedback errors affect human behavior, prior studies have explored how visual signals are used to recalibrate arm movements2,3 and auditory feedback is used to modify speech production4-7. The strength of this approach rests on the ability to mimic naturalistic errors in behavior, allowing the experimenter to observe how experienced errors in production are used to recalibrate motor output. Songbirds provide an excellent animal model for investigating the neural basis of sensorimotor control and plasticity8,9. The songbird brain provides a well-defined circuit in which the areas necessary for song learning are spatially separated from those required for song production, and neural recording and lesion studies have made significant advances in understanding how different brain areas contribute to vocal behavior9-12. However, the lack of a naturalistic error-correction paradigm - in which a known acoustic parameter is perturbed by the experimenter and then corrected by the songbird - has made it difficult to understand the computations underlying vocal learning or how different elements of the neural circuit contribute to the correction of vocal errors13. The technique described here gives the experimenter precise control over auditory feedback errors in singing birds, allowing the introduction of arbitrary sensory errors that can be used to drive vocal learning. Online sound-processing equipment is used to introduce a known perturbation to the acoustics of song, and a miniaturized headphones apparatus is used to replace a songbird's natural auditory feedback with the perturbed signal in real time. We have used this paradigm to perturb the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in adult songbirds, providing the first demonstration that adult birds maintain vocal performance using error correction14. The present protocol can be used to implement a wide range of sensory feedback perturbations (including but not limited to pitch shifts) to investigate the computational and neurophysiological basis of vocal learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Anatomy, Physiology, Zoology, Behavior, Songbird, psychophysics, auditory feedback, biology, sensorimotor learning
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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A Toolkit to Enable Hydrocarbon Conversion in Aqueous Environments
Authors: Eva K. Brinkman, Kira Schipper, Nadine Bongaerts, Mathias J. Voges, Alessandro Abate, S. Aljoscha Wahl.
Institutions: Delft University of Technology, Delft University of Technology.
This work puts forward a toolkit that enables the conversion of alkanes by Escherichia coli and presents a proof of principle of its applicability. The toolkit consists of multiple standard interchangeable parts (BioBricks)9 addressing the conversion of alkanes, regulation of gene expression and survival in toxic hydrocarbon-rich environments. A three-step pathway for alkane degradation was implemented in E. coli to enable the conversion of medium- and long-chain alkanes to their respective alkanols, alkanals and ultimately alkanoic-acids. The latter were metabolized via the native β-oxidation pathway. To facilitate the oxidation of medium-chain alkanes (C5-C13) and cycloalkanes (C5-C8), four genes (alkB2, rubA3, rubA4and rubB) of the alkane hydroxylase system from Gordonia sp. TF68,21 were transformed into E. coli. For the conversion of long-chain alkanes (C15-C36), theladA gene from Geobacillus thermodenitrificans was implemented. For the required further steps of the degradation process, ADH and ALDH (originating from G. thermodenitrificans) were introduced10,11. The activity was measured by resting cell assays. For each oxidative step, enzyme activity was observed. To optimize the process efficiency, the expression was only induced under low glucose conditions: a substrate-regulated promoter, pCaiF, was used. pCaiF is present in E. coli K12 and regulates the expression of the genes involved in the degradation of non-glucose carbon sources. The last part of the toolkit - targeting survival - was implemented using solvent tolerance genes, PhPFDα and β, both from Pyrococcus horikoshii OT3. Organic solvents can induce cell stress and decreased survivability by negatively affecting protein folding. As chaperones, PhPFDα and β improve the protein folding process e.g. under the presence of alkanes. The expression of these genes led to an improved hydrocarbon tolerance shown by an increased growth rate (up to 50%) in the presences of 10% n-hexane in the culture medium were observed. Summarizing, the results indicate that the toolkit enables E. coli to convert and tolerate hydrocarbons in aqueous environments. As such, it represents an initial step towards a sustainable solution for oil-remediation using a synthetic biology approach.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Oil remediation, alkane metabolism, alkane hydroxylase system, resting cell assay, prefoldin, Escherichia coli, synthetic biology, homologous interaction mapping, mathematical model, BioBrick, iGEM
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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Creation of Reversible Cholestatic Rat Model
Authors: Gokulakkrishna Subhas, Jasneet Bhullar, Vijay K. Mittal, Michael J. Jacobs.
Institutions: Providence Hospital and Medical Centers.
Cholestasis is a clinical condition commonly encountered by both surgeons and gastroenterologists. Cholestasis can cause various physiological changes and affect the nutritional status and surgical outcomes. Study of the pathophysiological changes occurring in the liver and other organs is of importance. Various studies have been done in cholestatic rat models. We used a reversible cholestatic rat model in our recent study looking at the role of methylprednisolone in the ischemia reperfusion injury. Various techniques for creation of a reversible cholestatic model have been described. Creation of a reversible cholestatic rat model can be challenging in view of the smaller size and unique hepatopancreatobiliary anatomy in rats. This video article demonstrates the creation of a reversible cholestatic model. This model can be used in various studies, such as looking at the changes in nutritional, physiological, pathological, histological and immunological changes in the gastrointestinal tract. This model can also be used to see the effects of cholestasis and various therapeutic interventions on major hepatic surgeries.
Medicine, Issue 51, Cholestasis, Rat model, Reversible cholestasis, Choledochoduodenostomy, Bile duct obstruction, Cholestasis
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Testing Visual Sensitivity to the Speed and Direction of Motion in Lizards
Authors: Kevin L. Woo.
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Testing visual sensitivity in any species provides basic information regarding behaviour, evolution, and ecology. However, testing specific features of the visual system provide more empirical evidence for functional applications. Investigation into the sensory system provides information about the sensory capacity, learning and memory ability, and establishes known baseline behaviour in which to gauge deviations (Burghardt, 1977). However, unlike mammalian or avian systems, testing for learning and memory in a reptile species is difficult. Furthermore, using an operant paradigm as a psychophysical measure of sensory ability is likewise as difficult. Historically, reptilian species have responded poorly to conditioning trials because of issues related to motivation, physiology, metabolism, and basic biological characteristics. Here, I demonstrate an operant paradigm used a novel model lizard species, the Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus) and describe how to test peripheral sensitivity to salient speed and motion characteristics. This method uses an innovative approach to assessing learning and sensory capacity in lizards. I employ the use of random-dot kinematograms (RDKs) to measure sensitivity to speed, and manipulate the level of signal strength by changing the proportion of dots moving in a coherent direction. RDKs do not represent a biologically meaningful stimulus, engages the visual system, and is a classic psychophysical tool used to measure sensitivity in humans and other animals. Here, RDKs are displayed to lizards using three video playback systems. Lizards are to select the direction (left or right) in which they perceive dots to be moving. Selection of the appropriate direction is reinforced by biologically important prey stimuli, simulated by computer-animated invertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 2, Visual sensitivity, motion perception, operant conditioning, speed, coherence, Jacky dragon (Amphibolurus muricatus)
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The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Authors: Claudia Repetto, Alessandra Gorini, Cinzia Vigna, Davide Algeri, Federica Pallavicini, Giuseppe Riva.
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology
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Operant Learning of Drosophila at the Torque Meter
Authors: Bjoern Brembs.
Institutions: Free University of Berlin.
For experiments at the torque meter, flies are kept on standard fly medium at 25°C and 60% humidity with a 12hr light/12hr dark regime. A standardized breeding regime assures proper larval density and age-matched cohorts. Cold-anesthetized flies are glued with head and thorax to a triangle-shaped hook the day before the experiment. Attached to the torque meter via a clamp, the fly's intended flight maneuvers are measured as the angular momentum around its vertical body axis. The fly is placed in the center of a cylindrical panorama to accomplish stationary flight. An analog to digital converter card feeds the yaw torque signal into a computer which stores the trace for later analysis. The computer also controls a variety of stimuli which can be brought under the fly's control by closing the feedback loop between these stimuli and the yaw torque trace. Punishment is achieved by applying heat from an adjustable infrared laser.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, operant, learning, Drosophila, fruit fly, insect, invertebrate, neuroscience, neurobiology, fly, conditioning
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Measuring Motor Coordination in Mice
Authors: Robert M.J. Deacon.
Institutions: University of Oxford .
Mice are increasingly being used in behavioral neuroscience, largely replacing rats as the behaviorist's animal of choice. Before aspects of behavior such as emotionality or cognition can be assessed, however, it is vital to determine whether the motor capabilities of e.g. a mutant or lesioned mouse allow such an assessment. Performance on a maze task requiring strength and coordination, such as the Morris water maze, might well be impaired in a mouse by motor, rather than cognitive, impairments, so it is essential to selectively dissect the latter from the former. For example, sensorimotor impairments caused by NMDA antagonists have been shown to impair water maze performance2. Motor coordination has traditionally been assessed in mice and rats by the rotarod test, in which the animal is placed on a horizontal rod that rotates about its long axis; the animal must walk forwards to remain upright and not fall off. Both set speed and accelerating versions of the rotarod are available. The other three tests described in this article (horizontal bar, static rods and parallel bars) all measure coordination on static apparatus. The horizontal bar also requires strength for adequate performance, particularly of the forelimbs as the mouse initially grips the bar just with the front paws. Adult rats do not perform well on tests such as the static rods and parallel bars (personal observations); they appear less well coordinated than mice. I have only tested male rats, however, and male mice seem generally less well coordinated than females. Mice appear to have a higher strength:weight ratio than rats; the Latin name, Mus musculus, seems entirely appropriate. The rotarod, the variations of the foot fault test12 or the Catwalk (Noldus)15 apparatus are generally used to assess motor coordination in rats.
Behavior, Issue 75, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Mice, motor behaviour, rotarod, horizontal bar, static rods, parallel bars, coordination, animal model
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