Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are serious and debilitating psychiatric conditions and each constitutes a significant public health concern, particularly in children. Both of these conditions are highlighted by the repeated expression of meaningless behaviors. Individuals with OCD often show checking, frequent hand washing, and counting. Children with ASDs also engage in repetitive tapping, arm or hand flapping, and rocking. These behaviors can vary widely in intensity and frequency of expression. More intense forms of repetitive behaviors can even result in injury (e.g. excessive grooming, hand washing, and self-stimulation). These behaviors are therefore very disruptive and make normal social discourse difficult. Treatment options for repetitive behaviors in OCD and ASDs are somewhat limited and there is great interest in developing more effective therapies for each condition. Numerous animal models for evaluating compulsive-like behaviors have been developed over the past three decades. Perhaps the animal models with the greatest validity and ease of use are the marble burying test and the nestlet shredding test. Both tests take advantage of the fact that the target behaviors occur spontaneously in mice. In the marble burying test, 20 marbles are arrayed on the surface of clean bedding. The number of marbles buried in a 30 min session is scored by investigators blind to the treatment or status of the subjects. In the nestlet shredding test, a nestlet comprised of pulped cotton fiber is preweighed and placed on top of cage bedding and the amount of the nestlet remaining intact after a 30 min test session is determined. Presently, we describe protocols for and show movie documentation of marble burying and nestlet shredding. Both tests are easily and accurately scored and each is sensitive to small changes in the expression of compulsive-like behaviors that result from genetic manipulations, disease, or head injury.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
EEG Mu Rhythm in Typical and Atypical Development
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is an effective, efficient, and noninvasive method of assessing and recording brain activity. Given the excellent temporal resolution, EEG can be used to examine the neural response related to specific behaviors, states, or external stimuli. An example of this utility is the assessment of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in humans through the examination of the EEG mu rhythm. The EEG mu rhythm, oscillatory activity in the 8-12 Hz frequency range recorded from centrally located electrodes, is suppressed when an individual executes, or simply observes, goal directed actions. As such, it has been proposed to reflect activity of the MNS. It has been theorized that dysfunction in the mirror neuron system (MNS) plays a contributing role in the social deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The MNS can then be noninvasively examined in clinical populations by using EEG mu rhythm attenuation as an index for its activity. The described protocol provides an avenue to examine social cognitive functions theoretically linked to the MNS in individuals with typical and atypical development, such as ASD.
Medicine, Issue 86, Electroencephalography (EEG), mu rhythm, imitation, autism spectrum disorder, social cognition, mirror neuron system
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
gDNA Enrichment by a Transposase-based Technology for NGS Analysis of the Whole Sequence of BRCA1, BRCA2, and 9 Genes Involved in DNA Damage Repair
Institutions: Centre Georges-François Leclerc.
The widespread use of Next Generation Sequencing has opened up new avenues for cancer research and diagnosis. NGS will bring huge amounts of new data on cancer, and especially cancer genetics. Current knowledge and future discoveries will make it necessary to study a huge number of genes that could be involved in a genetic predisposition to cancer. In this regard, we developed a Nextera design to study 11 complete genes involved in DNA damage repair. This protocol was developed to safely study 11 genes (ATM
, and TP53
) from promoter to 3'-UTR in 24 patients simultaneously. This protocol, based on transposase technology and gDNA enrichment, gives a great advantage in terms of time for the genetic diagnosis thanks to sample multiplexing. This protocol can be safely used with blood gDNA.
Genetics, Issue 92, gDNA enrichment, Nextera, NGS, DNA damage, BRCA1, BRCA2
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+Itpr3tf
/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
In Vivo Modeling of the Morbid Human Genome using Danio rerio
Institutions: Duke University Medical Center, Duke University, Duke University Medical Center.
Here, we present methods for the development of assays to query potentially clinically significant nonsynonymous changes using in vivo
complementation in zebrafish. Zebrafish (Danio rerio
) are a useful animal system due to their experimental tractability; embryos are transparent to enable facile viewing, undergo rapid development ex vivo,
and can be genetically manipulated.1
These aspects have allowed for significant advances in the analysis of embryogenesis, molecular processes, and morphogenetic signaling. Taken together, the advantages of this vertebrate model make zebrafish highly amenable to modeling the developmental defects in pediatric disease, and in some cases, adult-onset disorders. Because the zebrafish genome is highly conserved with that of humans (~70% orthologous), it is possible to recapitulate human disease states in zebrafish. This is accomplished either through the injection of mutant human mRNA to induce dominant negative or gain of function alleles, or utilization of morpholino (MO) antisense oligonucleotides to suppress genes to mimic loss of function variants. Through complementation of MO-induced phenotypes with capped human mRNA, our approach enables the interpretation of the deleterious effect of mutations on human protein sequence based on the ability of mutant mRNA to rescue a measurable, physiologically relevant phenotype. Modeling of the human disease alleles occurs through microinjection of zebrafish embryos with MO and/or human mRNA at the 1-4 cell stage, and phenotyping up to seven days post fertilization (dpf). This general strategy can be extended to a wide range of disease phenotypes, as demonstrated in the following protocol. We present our established models for morphogenetic signaling, craniofacial, cardiac, vascular integrity, renal function, and skeletal muscle disorder phenotypes, as well as others.
Molecular Biology, Issue 78, Genetics, Biomedical Engineering, Medicine, Developmental Biology, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Bioengineering, Genomics, Medical, zebrafish, in vivo, morpholino, human disease modeling, transcription, PCR, mRNA, DNA, Danio rerio, animal model
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al.
, 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
Osmotic Avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans: Synaptic Function of Two Genes, Orthologues of Human NRXN1 and NLGN1, as Candidates for Autism
Institutions: Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Córdoba, Instituto Maimónides de Investigación Biomédica de Córdoba (IMIBIC).
Neurexins and neuroligins are cell adhesion molecules present in excitatory and inhibitory synapses, and they are required for correct neuron network function1
. These proteins are found at the presynaptic and postsynaptic membranes 2
. Studies in mice indicate that neurexins and neurologins have an essential role in synaptic transmission 1
. Recent reports have shown that altered neuronal connections during the development of the human nervous system could constitute the basis of the etiology of numerous cases of autism spectrum disorders 3
could be used as an experimental tool to facilitate the study of the functioning of synaptic components, because of its simplicity for laboratory experimentation, and given that its nervous system and synaptic wiring has been fully characterized. In C
. elegans nrx-1
genes are orthologous to human NRXN1
genes which encode alpha-neurexin-1 and neuroligin-1 proteins, respectively. In humans and nematodes, the organization of neurexins and neuroligins is similar in respect to functional domains.
The head of the nematode contains the amphid, a sensory organ of the nematode, which mediates responses to different stimuli, including osmotic strength. The amphid is made of 12 sensory bipolar neurons with ciliated dendrites and one presynaptic terminal axon 4
. Two of these neurons, named ASHR and ASHL are particularly important in osmotic sensory function, detecting water-soluble repellents with high osmotic strength 5
. The dendrites of these two neurons lengthen to the tip of the mouth and the axons extend to the nerve ring, where they make synaptic connections with other neurons determining the behavioral response 6
To evaluate the implications of neurexin and neuroligin in high osmotic strength avoidance, we show the different response of C. elegans mutants defective in nrx-1
genes, using a method based on a 4M fructose ring 7
. The behavioral phenotypes were confirmed using specific RNAi clones 8
. In C. elegans
, the dsRNA required to trigger RNAi can be administered by feeding 9
. The delivery of dsRNA through food induces the RNAi interference of the gene of interest thus allowing the identification of genetic components and network pathways.
Neuroscience, Microbiology, Issue 34, synapse, osmotic sensitivity, Caenorhabditis elegans, neurexin, neuroligin, autism, neuroscience
Application of a C. elegans Dopamine Neuron Degeneration Assay for the Validation of Potential Parkinson's Disease Genes
Institutions: University of Alabama.
Improvements to the diagnosis and treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD) are dependent upon knowledge about susceptibility factors that render populations at risk. In the process of attempting to identify novel genetic factors associated with PD, scientists have generated many lists of candidate genes, polymorphisms, and proteins that represent important advances, but these leads remain mechanistically undefined. Our work is aimed toward significantly narrowing such lists by exploiting the advantages of a simple animal model system. While humans have billions of neurons, the microscopic roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans has precisely 302, of which only eight produce dopamine (DA) in hemaphrodites. Expression of a human gene encoding the PD-associated protein, alpha-synuclein, in C. elegans DA neurons results in dosage and age-dependent neurodegeneration.
Worms expressing human alpha-synuclein in DA neurons are isogenic and express both GFP and human alpha-synuclein under the DA transporter promoter (Pdat-1). The presence of GFP serves as a readily visualized marker for following DA neurodegeneration in these animals. We initially demonstrated that alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration could be rescued in these animals by torsinA, a protein with molecular chaperone activity 1
. Further, candidate PD-related genes identified in our lab via large-scale RNAi screening efforts using an alpha-synuclein misfolding assay were then over-expressed in C. elegans DA neurons. We determined that five of seven genes tested represented significant candidate modulators of PD as they rescued alpha-synuclein-induced DA neurodegeneration 2
. Additionally, the Lindquist Lab (this issue of JoVE) has performed yeast screens whereby alpha-synuclein-dependent toxicity is used as a readout for genes that can enhance or suppress cytotoxicity. We subsequently examined the yeast candidate genes in our C. elegans alpha-synuclein-induced neurodegeneration assay and successfully validated many of these targets 3, 4
Our methodology involves generation of a C. elegans DA neuron-specific expression vector using recombinational cloning of candidate gene cDNAs under control of the Pdat-1 promoter. These plasmids are then microinjected in wild-type (N2) worms, along with a selectable marker for successful transformation. Multiple stable transgenic lines producing the candidate protein in DA neurons are obtained and then independently crossed into the alpha-synuclein degenerative strain and assessed for neurodegeneration, at both the animal and individual neuron level, over the course of aging.
Neuroscience, Issue 17, C. elegans, Parkinson's disease, neuroprotection, alpha-synuclein, Translational Research
Using SCOPE to Identify Potential Regulatory Motifs in Coregulated Genes
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
SCOPE is an ensemble motif finder that uses three component algorithms in parallel to identify potential regulatory motifs by over-representation and motif position preference1
. Each component algorithm is optimized to find a different kind of motif. By taking the best of these three approaches, SCOPE performs better than any single algorithm, even in the presence of noisy data1
. In this article, we utilize a web version of SCOPE2
to examine genes that are involved in telomere maintenance. SCOPE has been incorporated into at least two other motif finding programs3,4
and has been used in other studies5-8
The three algorithms that comprise SCOPE are BEAM9
, which finds non-degenerate motifs (ACCGGT), PRISM10
, which finds degenerate motifs (ASCGWT), and SPACER11
, which finds longer bipartite motifs (ACCnnnnnnnnGGT). These three algorithms have been optimized to find their corresponding type of motif. Together, they allow SCOPE to perform extremely well.
Once a gene set has been analyzed and candidate motifs identified, SCOPE can look for other genes that contain the motif which, when added to the original set, will improve the motif score. This can occur through over-representation or motif position preference. Working with partial gene sets that have biologically verified transcription factor binding sites, SCOPE was able to identify most of the rest of the genes also regulated by the given transcription factor.
Output from SCOPE shows candidate motifs, their significance, and other information both as a table and as a graphical motif map. FAQs and video tutorials are available at the SCOPE web site which also includes a "Sample Search" button that allows the user to perform a trial run.
Scope has a very friendly user interface that enables novice users to access the algorithm's full power without having to become an expert in the bioinformatics of motif finding. As input, SCOPE can take a list of genes, or FASTA sequences. These can be entered in browser text fields, or read from a file. The output from SCOPE contains a list of all identified motifs with their scores, number of occurrences, fraction of genes containing the motif, and the algorithm used to identify the motif. For each motif, result details include a consensus representation of the motif, a sequence logo, a position weight matrix, and a list of instances for every motif occurrence (with exact positions and "strand" indicated). Results are returned in a browser window and also optionally by email. Previous papers describe the SCOPE algorithms in detail1,2,9-11
Genetics, Issue 51, gene regulation, computational biology, algorithm, promoter sequence motif
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research