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Pubmed Article
An electronic analog of synthetic genetic networks.
PUBLISHED: 06-26-2011
An electronic analog of a synthetic genetic network known as the repressilator is proposed. The repressilator is a synthetic biological clock consisting of a cyclic inhibitory network of three negative regulatory genes which produces oscillations in the expressed protein concentrations. Compared to previous circuit analogs of the repressilator, the circuit here takes into account more accurately the kinetics of gene expression, inhibition, and protein degradation. A good agreement between circuit measurements and numerical prediction is observed. The circuit allows for easy control of the kinetic parameters thereby aiding investigations of large varieties of potential dynamics.
Authors: Zachary Z. Sun, Clarmyra A. Hayes, Jonghyeon Shin, Filippo Caschera, Richard M. Murray, Vincent Noireaux.
Published: 09-16-2013
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo cellular environment in a controlled in vitro platform.1 This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3 To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5 The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6 Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7 The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8 Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10 The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
26 Related JoVE Articles!
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Monitoring the Reductive and Oxidative Half-Reactions of a Flavin-Dependent Monooxygenase using Stopped-Flow Spectrophotometry
Authors: Elvira Romero, Reeder Robinson, Pablo Sobrado.
Institutions: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Aspergillus fumigatus siderophore A (SidA) is an FAD-containing monooxygenase that catalyzes the hydroxylation of ornithine in the biosynthesis of hydroxamate siderophores that are essential for virulence (e.g. ferricrocin or N',N",N'''-triacetylfusarinine C)1. The reaction catalyzed by SidA can be divided into reductive and oxidative half-reactions (Scheme 1). In the reductive half-reaction, the oxidized FAD bound to Af SidA, is reduced by NADPH2,3. In the oxidative half-reaction, the reduced cofactor reacts with molecular oxygen to form a C4a-hydroperoxyflavin intermediate, which transfers an oxygen atom to ornithine. Here, we describe a procedure to measure the rates and detect the different spectral forms of SidA using a stopped-flow instrument installed in an anaerobic glove box. In the stopped-flow instrument, small volumes of reactants are rapidly mixed, and after the flow is stopped by the stop syringe (Figure 1), the spectral changes of the solution placed in the observation cell are recorded over time. In the first part of the experiment, we show how we can use the stopped-flow instrument in single mode, where the anaerobic reduction of the flavin in Af SidA by NADPH is directly measured. We then use double mixing settings where Af SidA is first anaerobically reduced by NADPH for a designated period of time in an aging loop, and then reacted with molecular oxygen in the observation cell (Figure 1). In order to perform this experiment, anaerobic buffers are necessary because when only the reductive half-reaction is monitored, any oxygen in the solutions will react with the reduced flavin cofactor and form a C4a-hydroperoxyflavin intermediate that will ultimately decay back into the oxidized flavin. This would not allow the user to accurately measure rates of reduction since there would be complete turnover of the enzyme. When the oxidative half-reaction is being studied the enzyme must be reduced in the absence of oxygen so that just the steps between reduction and oxidation are observed. One of the buffers used in this experiment is oxygen saturated so that we can study the oxidative half-reaction at higher concentrations of oxygen. These are often the procedures carried out when studying either the reductive or oxidative half-reactions with flavin-containing monooxygenases. The time scale of the pre-steady-state experiments performed with the stopped-flow is milliseconds to seconds, which allow the determination of intrinsic rate constants and the detection and identification of intermediates in the reaction4. The procedures described here can be applied to other flavin-dependent monooxygenases.5,6
Bioengineering, Issue 61, Stopped-flow, kinetic mechanism, SidA, C4a-hydroperoxyflavin, monooxygenase, Aspergillus fumigatus
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Temporal Quantification of MAPK Induced Expression in Single Yeast Cells
Authors: Serge Pelet, Delphine Aymoz, Eric Durandau.
Institutions: University of Lausanne.
The quantification of gene expression at the single cell level uncovers novel regulatory mechanisms obscured in measurements performed at the population level. Two methods based on microscopy and flow cytometry are presented to demonstrate how such data can be acquired. The expression of a fluorescent reporter induced upon activation of the high osmolarity glycerol MAPK pathway in yeast is used as an example. The specific advantages of each method are highlighted. Flow cytometry measures a large number of cells (10,000) and provides a direct measure of the dynamics of protein expression independent of the slow maturation kinetics of the fluorescent protein. Imaging of living cells by microscopy is by contrast limited to the measurement of the matured form of the reporter in fewer cells. However, the data sets generated by this technique can be extremely rich thanks to the combinations of multiple reporters and to the spatial and temporal information obtained from individual cells. The combination of these two measurement methods can deliver new insights on the regulation of protein expression by signaling pathways.
Cellular Biology, Issue 80, Yeasts, Flow Cytometry, Microscopy, Fluorescence, Signal Transduction, single cells, MAPK signaling, Saccharomyces cerevisiae
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Introduction to Solid Supported Membrane Based Electrophysiology
Authors: Andre Bazzone, Wagner Steuer Costa, Markus Braner, Octavian Călinescu, Lina Hatahet, Klaus Fendler.
Institutions: Max Planck Institute of Biophysics, Goethe University Frankfurt.
The electrophysiological method we present is based on a solid supported membrane (SSM) composed of an octadecanethiol layer chemisorbed on a gold coated sensor chip and a phosphatidylcholine monolayer on top. This assembly is mounted into a cuvette system containing the reference electrode, a chlorinated silver wire. After adsorption of membrane fragments or proteoliposomes containing the membrane protein of interest, a fast solution exchange is used to induce the transport activity of the membrane protein. In the single solution exchange protocol two solutions, one non-activating and one activating solution, are needed. The flow is controlled by pressurized air and a valve and tubing system within a faraday cage. The kinetics of the electrogenic transport activity is obtained via capacitive coupling between the SSM and the proteoliposomes or membrane fragments. The method, therefore, yields only transient currents. The peak current represents the stationary transport activity. The time dependent transporter currents can be reconstructed by circuit analysis. This method is especially suited for prokaryotic transporters or eukaryotic transporters from intracellular membranes, which cannot be investigated by patch clamp or voltage clamp methods.
Biochemistry, Issue 75, Biophysics, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Proteins, Membrane Lipids, Membrane Transport Proteins, Kinetics, Electrophysiology, solid supported membrane, SSM, membrane transporter, lactose permease, lacY, capacitive coupling, solution exchange, model membrane, membrane protein, transporter, kinetics, transport mechanism
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High-throughput Protein Expression Generator Using a Microfluidic Platform
Authors: Yair Glick, Dorit Avrahami, Efrat Michaely, Doron Gerber.
Institutions: Bar-Ilan University.
Rapidly increasing fields, such as systems biology, require the development and implementation of new technologies, enabling high-throughput and high-fidelity measurements of large systems. Microfluidics promises to fulfill many of these requirements, such as performing high-throughput screening experiments on-chip, encompassing biochemical, biophysical, and cell-based assays1. Since the early days of microfluidics devices, this field has drastically evolved, leading to the development of microfluidic large-scale integration2,3. This technology allows for the integration of thousands of micromechanical valves on a single device with a postage-sized footprint (Figure 1). We have developed a high-throughput microfluidic platform for generating in vitro expression of protein arrays (Figure 2) named PING (Protein Interaction Network Generator). These arrays can serve as a template for many experiments such as protein-protein 4, protein-RNA5 or protein-DNA6 interactions. The device consist of thousands of reaction chambers, which are individually programmed using a microarrayer. Aligning of these printed microarrays to microfluidics devices programs each chamber with a single spot eliminating potential contamination or cross-reactivity Moreover, generating microarrays using standard microarray spotting techniques is also very modular, allowing for the arraying of proteins7, DNA8, small molecules, and even colloidal suspensions. The potential impact of microfluidics on biological sciences is significant. A number of microfluidics based assays have already provided novel insights into the structure and function of biological systems, and the field of microfluidics will continue to impact biology.
Bioengineering, Issue 66, Genetics, Chemistry, Molecular Biology, In vitro protein expression, microfluidics, protein microarray, systems biology, high-throughput, screening
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Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Authors: Alla Gagarinova, Mohan Babu, Jack Greenblatt, Andrew Emili.
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
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In Vitro Synthesis of Modified mRNA for Induction of Protein Expression in Human Cells
Authors: Meltem Avci-Adali, Andreas Behring, Heidrun Steinle, Timea Keller, Stefanie Krajeweski, Christian Schlensak, Hans P. Wendel.
Institutions: University Hospital Tuebingen.
The exogenous delivery of coding synthetic messenger RNA (mRNA) for induction of protein synthesis in desired cells has enormous potential in the fields of regenerative medicine, basic cell biology, treatment of diseases, and reprogramming of cells. Here, we describe a step by step protocol for generation of modified mRNA with reduced immune activation potential and increased stability, quality control of produced mRNA, transfection of cells with mRNA and verification of the induced protein expression by flow cytometry. Up to 3 days after a single transfection with eGFP mRNA, the transfected HEK293 cells produce eGFP. In this video article, the synthesis of eGFP mRNA is described as an example. However, the procedure can be applied for production of other desired mRNA. Using the synthetic modified mRNA, cells can be induced to transiently express the desired proteins, which they normally would not express.
Genetics, Issue 93, mRNA synthesis, in vitro transcription, modification, transfection, protein synthesis, eGFP, flow cytometry
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Microwave-assisted Functionalization of Poly(ethylene glycol) and On-resin Peptides for Use in Chain Polymerizations and Hydrogel Formation
Authors: Amy H. Van Hove, Brandon D. Wilson, Danielle S. W. Benoit.
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Rochester, University of Rochester Medical Center.
One of the main benefits to using poly(ethylene glycol) (PEG) macromers in hydrogel formation is synthetic versatility. The ability to draw from a large variety of PEG molecular weights and configurations (arm number, arm length, and branching pattern) affords researchers tight control over resulting hydrogel structures and properties, including Young’s modulus and mesh size. This video will illustrate a rapid, efficient, solvent-free, microwave-assisted method to methacrylate PEG precursors into poly(ethylene glycol) dimethacrylate (PEGDM). This synthetic method provides much-needed starting materials for applications in drug delivery and regenerative medicine. The demonstrated method is superior to traditional methacrylation methods as it is significantly faster and simpler, as well as more economical and environmentally friendly, using smaller amounts of reagents and solvents. We will also demonstrate an adaptation of this technique for on-resin methacrylamide functionalization of peptides. This on-resin method allows the N-terminus of peptides to be functionalized with methacrylamide groups prior to deprotection and cleavage from resin. This allows for selective addition of methacrylamide groups to the N-termini of the peptides while amino acids with reactive side groups (e.g. primary amine of lysine, primary alcohol of serine, secondary alcohols of threonine, and phenol of tyrosine) remain protected, preventing functionalization at multiple sites. This article will detail common analytical methods (proton Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy (;H-NMR) and Matrix Assisted Laser Desorption Ionization Time of Flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF)) to assess the efficiency of the functionalizations. Common pitfalls and suggested troubleshooting methods will be addressed, as will modifications of the technique which can be used to further tune macromer functionality and resulting hydrogel physical and chemical properties. Use of synthesized products for the formation of hydrogels for drug delivery and cell-material interaction studies will be demonstrated, with particular attention paid to modifying hydrogel composition to affect mesh size, controlling hydrogel stiffness and drug release.
Chemistry, Issue 80, Poly(ethylene glycol), peptides, polymerization, polymers, methacrylation, peptide functionalization, 1H-NMR, MALDI-ToF, hydrogels, macromer synthesis
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In vitro Transcription and Capping of Gaussia Luciferase mRNA Followed by HeLa Cell Transfection
Authors: Bhairavi Jani, Ryan Fuchs.
Institutions: New England Biolabs.
In vitro transcription is the synthesis of RNA transcripts by RNA polymerase from a linear DNA template containing the corresponding promoter sequence (T7, T3, SP6) and the gene to be transcribed (Figure 1A). A typical transcription reaction consists of the template DNA, RNA polymerase, ribonucleotide triphosphates, RNase inhibitor and buffer containing Mg2+ ions. Large amounts of high quality RNA are often required for a variety of applications. Use of in vitro transcription has been reported for RNA structure and function studies such as splicing1, RNAi experiments in mammalian cells2, antisense RNA amplification by the "Eberwine method"3, microarray analysis4 and for RNA vaccine studies5. The technique can also be used for producing radiolabeled and dye labeled probes6. Warren, et al. recently reported reprogramming of human cells by transfection with in vitro transcribed capped RNA7. The T7 High Yield RNA Synthesis Kit from New England Biolabs has been designed to synthesize up to 180 μg RNA per 20 μl reaction. RNA of length up to 10kb has been successfully transcribed using this kit. Linearized plasmid DNA, PCR products and synthetic DNA oligonucleotides can be used as templates for transcription as long as they have the T7 promoter sequence upstream of the gene to be transcribed. Addition of a 5' end cap structure to the RNA is an important process in eukaryotes. It is essential for RNA stability8, efficient translation9, nuclear transport10 and splicing11. The process involves addition of a 7-methylguanosine cap at the 5' triphosphate end of the RNA. RNA capping can be carried out post-transcriptionally using capping enzymes or co-transcriptionally using cap analogs. In the enzymatic method, the mRNA is capped using the Vaccinia virus capping enzyme12,13. The enzyme adds on a 7-methylguanosine cap at the 5' end of the RNA using GTP and S-adenosyl methionine as donors (cap 0 structure). Both methods yield functionally active capped RNA suitable for transfection or other applications14 such as generating viral genomic RNA for reverse-genetic systems15 and crystallographic studies of cap binding proteins such as eIF4E16. In the method described below, the T7 High Yield RNA Synthesis Kit from NEB is used to synthesize capped and uncapped RNA transcripts of Gaussia luciferase (GLuc) and Cypridina luciferase (CLuc). A portion of the uncapped GLuc RNA is capped using the Vaccinia Capping System (NEB). A linearized plasmid containing the GLuc or CLuc gene and T7 promoter is used as the template DNA. The transcribed RNA is transfected into HeLa cells and cell culture supernatants are assayed for luciferase activity. Capped CLuc RNA is used as the internal control to normalize GLuc expression.
Genetics, Issue 61, In vitro transcription, Vaccinia capping enzyme, transfection, T7 RNA Polymerase, RNA synthesis
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Nucleoside Triphosphates - From Synthesis to Biochemical Characterization
Authors: Marcel Hollenstein, Christine Catherine Smith, Michael Räz.
Institutions: University of Bern.
The traditional strategy for the introduction of chemical functionalities is the use of solid-phase synthesis by appending suitably modified phosphoramidite precursors to the nascent chain. However, the conditions used during the synthesis and the restriction to rather short sequences hamper the applicability of this methodology. On the other hand, modified nucleoside triphosphates are activated building blocks that have been employed for the mild introduction of numerous functional groups into nucleic acids, a strategy that paves the way for the use of modified nucleic acids in a wide-ranging palette of practical applications such as functional tagging and generation of ribozymes and DNAzymes. One of the major challenges resides in the intricacy of the methodology leading to the isolation and characterization of these nucleoside analogues. In this video article, we present a detailed protocol for the synthesis of these modified analogues using phosphorous(III)-based reagents. In addition, the procedure for their biochemical characterization is divulged, with a special emphasis on primer extension reactions and TdT tailing polymerization. This detailed protocol will be of use for the crafting of modified dNTPs and their further use in chemical biology.
Chemistry, Issue 86, Nucleic acid analogues, Bioorganic Chemistry, PCR, primer extension reactions, organic synthesis, PAGE, HPLC, nucleoside triphosphates
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Optical Recording of Suprathreshold Neural Activity with Single-cell and Single-spike Resolution
Authors: Gayathri Nattar Ranganathan, Helmut J. Koester.
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
Signaling of information in the vertebrate central nervous system is often carried by populations of neurons rather than individual neurons. Also propagation of suprathreshold spiking activity involves populations of neurons. Empirical studies addressing cortical function directly thus require recordings from populations of neurons with high resolution. Here we describe an optical method and a deconvolution algorithm to record neural activity from up to 100 neurons with single-cell and single-spike resolution. This method relies on detection of the transient increases in intracellular somatic calcium concentration associated with suprathreshold electrical spikes (action potentials) in cortical neurons. High temporal resolution of the optical recordings is achieved by a fast random-access scanning technique using acousto-optical deflectors (AODs)1. Two-photon excitation of the calcium-sensitive dye results in high spatial resolution in opaque brain tissue2. Reconstruction of spikes from the fluorescence calcium recordings is achieved by a maximum-likelihood method. Simultaneous electrophysiological and optical recordings indicate that our method reliably detects spikes (>97% spike detection efficiency), has a low rate of false positive spike detection (< 0.003 spikes/sec), and a high temporal precision (about 3 msec) 3. This optical method of spike detection can be used to record neural activity in vitro and in anesthetized animals in vivo3,4.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, functional calcium imaging, spatiotemporal patterns of activity, dithered random-access scanning
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A Computer-assisted Multi-electrode Patch-clamp System
Authors: Rodrigo Perin, Henry Markram.
Institutions: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne.
The patch-clamp technique is today the most well-established method for recording electrical activity from individual neurons or their subcellular compartments. Nevertheless, achieving stable recordings, even from individual cells, remains a time-consuming procedure of considerable complexity. Automation of many steps in conjunction with efficient information display can greatly assist experimentalists in performing a larger number of recordings with greater reliability and in less time. In order to achieve large-scale recordings we concluded the most efficient approach is not to fully automatize the process but to simplify the experimental steps and reduce the chances of human error while efficiently incorporating the experimenter's experience and visual feedback. With these goals in mind we developed a computer-assisted system which centralizes all the controls necessary for a multi-electrode patch-clamp experiment in a single interface, a commercially available wireless gamepad, while displaying experiment related information and guidance cues on the computer screen. Here we describe the different components of the system which allowed us to reduce the time required for achieving the recording configuration and substantially increase the chances of successfully recording large numbers of neurons simultaneously.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Patch-clamp, automatic positioning, whole-cell, neuronal recording, in vitro, multi-electrode
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Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Authors: Melissa N. Patterson, Patrick H. Maxwell.
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Saccharomyces cerevisiae 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
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Mapping Inhibitory Neuronal Circuits by Laser Scanning Photostimulation
Authors: Taruna Ikrar, Nicholas D. Olivas, Yulin Shi, Xiangmin Xu.
Institutions: University of California, Irvine, University of California, Irvine.
Inhibitory neurons are crucial to cortical function. They comprise about 20% of the entire cortical neuronal population and can be further subdivided into diverse subtypes based on their immunochemical, morphological, and physiological properties1-4. Although previous research has revealed much about intrinsic properties of individual types of inhibitory neurons, knowledge about their local circuit connections is still relatively limited3,5,6. Given that each individual neuron's function is shaped by its excitatory and inhibitory synaptic input within cortical circuits, we have been using laser scanning photostimulation (LSPS) to map local circuit connections to specific inhibitory cell types. Compared to conventional electrical stimulation or glutamate puff stimulation, LSPS has unique advantages allowing for extensive mapping and quantitative analysis of local functional inputs to individually recorded neurons3,7-9. Laser photostimulation via glutamate uncaging selectively activates neurons perisomatically, without activating axons of passage or distal dendrites, which ensures a sub-laminar mapping resolution. The sensitivity and efficiency of LSPS for mapping inputs from many stimulation sites over a large region are well suited for cortical circuit analysis. Here we introduce the technique of LSPS combined with whole-cell patch clamping for local inhibitory circuit mapping. Targeted recordings of specific inhibitory cell types are facilitated by use of transgenic mice expressing green fluorescent proteins (GFP) in limited inhibitory neuron populations in the cortex3,10, which enables consistent sampling of the targeted cell types and unambiguous identification of the cell types recorded. As for LSPS mapping, we outline the system instrumentation, describe the experimental procedure and data acquisition, and present examples of circuit mapping in mouse primary somatosensory cortex. As illustrated in our experiments, caged glutamate is activated in a spatially restricted region of the brain slice by UV laser photolysis; simultaneous voltage-clamp recordings allow detection of photostimulation-evoked synaptic responses. Maps of either excitatory or inhibitory synaptic input to the targeted neuron are generated by scanning the laser beam to stimulate hundreds of potential presynaptic sites. Thus, LSPS enables the construction of detailed maps of synaptic inputs impinging onto specific types of inhibitory neurons through repeated experiments. Taken together, the photostimulation-based technique offers neuroscientists a powerful tool for determining the functional organization of local cortical circuits.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, glutamate uncaging, whole cell recording, GFP, transgenic, interneurons
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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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Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Authors: Brittany Baierlein, Alison L. Thurow, Harold L. Atwood, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+ on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
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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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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
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 (, 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
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Modeling Biological Membranes with Circuit Boards and Measuring Electrical Signals in Axons: Student Laboratory Exercises
Authors: Martha M. Robinson, Jonathan M. Martin, Harold L. Atwood, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
This is a demonstration of how electrical models can be used to characterize biological membranes. This exercise also introduces biophysical terminology used in electrophysiology. The same equipment is used in the membrane model as on live preparations. Some properties of an isolated nerve cord are investigated: nerve action potentials, recruitment of neurons, and responsiveness of the nerve cord to environmental factors.
Basic Protocols, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, Modeling, Student laboratory, Nerve cord
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Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Authors: Jeremy D. Smith, Abbie E. Ferris, Gary D. Heise, Richard N. Hinrichs, Philip E. Martin.
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Monitoring Cell-autonomous Circadian Clock Rhythms of Gene Expression Using Luciferase Bioluminescence Reporters
Authors: Chidambaram Ramanathan, Sanjoy K. Khan, Nimish D. Kathale, Haiyan Xu, Andrew C. Liu.
Institutions: The University of Memphis.
In mammals, many aspects of behavior and physiology such as sleep-wake cycles and liver metabolism are regulated by endogenous circadian clocks (reviewed1,2). The circadian time-keeping system is a hierarchical multi-oscillator network, with the central clock located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) synchronizing and coordinating extra-SCN and peripheral clocks elsewhere1,2. Individual cells are the functional units for generation and maintenance of circadian rhythms3,4, and these oscillators of different tissue types in the organism share a remarkably similar biochemical negative feedback mechanism. However, due to interactions at the neuronal network level in the SCN and through rhythmic, systemic cues at the organismal level, circadian rhythms at the organismal level are not necessarily cell-autonomous5-7. Compared to traditional studies of locomotor activity in vivo and SCN explants ex vivo, cell-based in vitro assays allow for discovery of cell-autonomous circadian defects5,8. Strategically, cell-based models are more experimentally tractable for phenotypic characterization and rapid discovery of basic clock mechanisms5,8-13. Because circadian rhythms are dynamic, longitudinal measurements with high temporal resolution are needed to assess clock function. In recent years, real-time bioluminescence recording using firefly luciferase as a reporter has become a common technique for studying circadian rhythms in mammals14,15, as it allows for examination of the persistence and dynamics of molecular rhythms. To monitor cell-autonomous circadian rhythms of gene expression, luciferase reporters can be introduced into cells via transient transfection13,16,17 or stable transduction5,10,18,19. Here we describe a stable transduction protocol using lentivirus-mediated gene delivery. The lentiviral vector system is superior to traditional methods such as transient transfection and germline transmission because of its efficiency and versatility: it permits efficient delivery and stable integration into the host genome of both dividing and non-dividing cells20. Once a reporter cell line is established, the dynamics of clock function can be examined through bioluminescence recording. We first describe the generation of P(Per2)-dLuc reporter lines, and then present data from this and other circadian reporters. In these assays, 3T3 mouse fibroblasts and U2OS human osteosarcoma cells are used as cellular models. We also discuss various ways of using these clock models in circadian studies. Methods described here can be applied to a great variety of cell types to study the cellular and molecular basis of circadian clocks, and may prove useful in tackling problems in other biological systems.
Genetics, Issue 67, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Chemical Biology, Circadian clock, firefly luciferase, real-time bioluminescence technology, cell-autonomous model, lentiviral vector, RNA interference (RNAi), high-throughput screening (HTS)
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Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing for the Quantification of Endothelial Proliferation, Barrier Function, and Motility
Authors: Robert Szulcek, Harm Jan Bogaard, Geerten P. van Nieuw Amerongen.
Institutions: Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center, Institute for Cardiovascular Research, VU University Medical Center.
Electric Cell-substrate Impedance Sensing (ECIS) is an in vitro impedance measuring system to quantify the behavior of cells within adherent cell layers. To this end, cells are grown in special culture chambers on top of opposing, circular gold electrodes. A constant small alternating current is applied between the electrodes and the potential across is measured. The insulating properties of the cell membrane create a resistance towards the electrical current flow resulting in an increased electrical potential between the electrodes. Measuring cellular impedance in this manner allows the automated study of cell attachment, growth, morphology, function, and motility. Although the ECIS measurement itself is straightforward and easy to learn, the underlying theory is complex and selection of the right settings and correct analysis and interpretation of the data is not self-evident. Yet, a clear protocol describing the individual steps from the experimental design to preparation, realization, and analysis of the experiment is not available. In this article the basic measurement principle as well as possible applications, experimental considerations, advantages and limitations of the ECIS system are discussed. A guide is provided for the study of cell attachment, spreading and proliferation; quantification of cell behavior in a confluent layer, with regard to barrier function, cell motility, quality of cell-cell and cell-substrate adhesions; and quantification of wound healing and cellular responses to vasoactive stimuli. Representative results are discussed based on human microvascular (MVEC) and human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC), but are applicable to all adherent growing cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 85, ECIS, Impedance Spectroscopy, Resistance, TEER, Endothelial Barrier, Cell Adhesions, Focal Adhesions, Proliferation, Migration, Motility, Wound Healing
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Design and Construction of a Cost Effective Headstage for Simultaneous Neural Stimulation and Recording in the Water Maze
Authors: Prasad R. Shirvalkar, Mathew L. Shapiro.
Institutions: Mount Sinai School of Medicine .
Headstage preamplifiers and source followers are commonly used to study neural activity in behavioral neurophysiology experiments. Available commercial products are often expensive, not easily customized, and not submersible. Here we describe a method to design and build a customized, integrated circuit headstage for simultaneous 4-channel neural recording and 2-channel simulation in awake, behaving animals. The headstage is designed using a free, commercially available CAD-type design package, and can be modified easily to accommodate different scales (e.g. to add channels). A customized printed circuit board is built using surface mount resistors, capacitors and operational amplifiers to construct the unity gain source follower circuit. The headstage is made water-proof with a combination of epoxy, parafilm and a synthetic rubber putty. We have successfully used this device to record local field potentials and stimulate different brain regions simultaneously via independent channels in rats swimming in a water maze. The total cost is < $30/unit and can be manufactured readily.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, brain, stimulation, recording, water maze, local field potential
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Channelrhodopsin2 Mediated Stimulation of Synaptic Potentials at Drosophila Neuromuscular Junctions
Authors: Nicholas J. Hornstein, Stefan R. Pulver, Leslie C. Griffith.
Institutions: Brandeis.
The Drosophila larval neuromuscular preparation has proven to be a useful tool for studying synaptic physiology1,2,3. Currently, the only means available to evoke excitatory junctional potentials (EJPs) in this preparation involves the use of suction electrodes. In both research and teaching labs, students often have difficulty maneuvering and manipulating this type of stimulating electrode. In the present work, we show how to remotely stimulate synaptic potentials at the larval NMJ without the use of suction electrodes. By expressing channelrhodopsin2 (ChR2) 4,5,6 in Drosophila motor neurons using the GAL4-UAS system 7, and making minor changes to a basic electrophysiology rig, we were able to reliably evoke EJPs with pulses of blue light. This technique could be of particular use in neurophysiology teaching labs where student rig practice time and resources are limited.
Neuroscience, Issue 25, Intracellular neurophysiology, Drosophila melanogaster larvae, Channelrhodopsin2
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Recordings of Neural Circuit Activation in Freely Behaving Animals
Authors: Jens Herberholz.
Institutions: University of Maryland.
The relationship between patterns of neural activity and corresponding behavioral expression is difficult to establish in unrestrained animals. Traditional non-invasive methods require at least partially restrained research subjects, and they only allow identification of large numbers of simultaneously activated neurons. On the other hand, small ensembles of neurons or individual neurons can only be measured using single-cell recordings obtained from largely reduced preparations. Since the expression of natural behavior is limited in restrained and dissected animals, the underlying neural mechanisms that control such behavior are difficult to identify. Here, I present a non-invasive physiological technique that allows measuring neural circuit activation in freely behaving animals. Using a pair of wire electrodes inside a water-filled chamber, the bath electrodes record neural and muscular field potentials generated by juvenile crayfish during natural or experimentally evoked escape responses. The primary escape responses of crayfish are mediated by three different types of tail-flips which move the animals away from the point of stimulation. Each type of tail-flip is controlled by its own neural circuit; the two fastest and most powerful escape responses require activation of different sets of large “command” neurons. In combination with behavioral observations, the bath electrode recordings allow unambiguous identification of these neurons and the associated neural circuits. Thus activity of neural circuitry underlying naturally occurring behavior can be measured in unrestrained animals and in different behavioral contexts.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, Electrophysiology, bath electrodes, neurons, behavior
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Enabling High Grayscale Resolution Displays and Accurate Response Time Measurements on Conventional Computers
Authors: Xiangrui Li, Zhong-Lin Lu.
Institutions: The Ohio State University, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, University of Southern California, The Ohio State University.
Display systems based on conventional computer graphics cards are capable of generating images with 8-bit gray level resolution. However, most experiments in vision research require displays with more than 12 bits of luminance resolution. Several solutions are available. Bit++ 1 and DataPixx 2 use the Digital Visual Interface (DVI) output from graphics cards and high resolution (14 or 16-bit) digital-to-analog converters to drive analog display devices. The VideoSwitcher 3 described here combines analog video signals from the red and blue channels of graphics cards with different weights using a passive resister network 4 and an active circuit to deliver identical video signals to the three channels of color monitors. The method provides an inexpensive way to enable high-resolution monochromatic displays using conventional graphics cards and analog monitors. It can also provide trigger signals that can be used to mark stimulus onsets, making it easy to synchronize visual displays with physiological recordings or response time measurements. Although computer keyboards and mice are frequently used in measuring response times (RT), the accuracy of these measurements is quite low. The RTbox is a specialized hardware and software solution for accurate RT measurements. Connected to the host computer through a USB connection, the driver of the RTbox is compatible with all conventional operating systems. It uses a microprocessor and high-resolution clock to record the identities and timing of button events, which are buffered until the host computer retrieves them. The recorded button events are not affected by potential timing uncertainties or biases associated with data transmission and processing in the host computer. The asynchronous storage greatly simplifies the design of user programs. Several methods are available to synchronize the clocks of the RTbox and the host computer. The RTbox can also receive external triggers and be used to measure RT with respect to external events. Both VideoSwitcher and RTbox are available for users to purchase. The relevant information and many demonstration programs can be found at
Neuroscience, Issue 60, VideoSwitcher, Visual stimulus, Luminance resolution, Contrast, Trigger, RTbox, Response time
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