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Rationality, irrationality and escalating behavior in lowest unique bid auctions.
Information technology has revolutionized the traditional structure of markets. The removal of geographical and time constraints has fostered the growth of online auction markets, which now include millions of economic agents worldwide and annual transaction volumes in the billions of dollars. Here, we analyze bid histories of a little studied type of online auctions--lowest unique bid auctions. Similarly to what has been reported for foraging animals searching for scarce food, we find that agents adopt Lévy flight search strategies in their exploration of "bid space". The Lévy regime, which is characterized by a power-law decaying probability distribution of step lengths, holds over nearly three orders of magnitude. We develop a quantitative model for lowest unique bid online auctions that reveals that agents use nearly optimal bidding strategies. However, agents participating in these auctions do not optimize their financial gain. Indeed, as long as there are many auction participants, a rational profit optimizing agent would choose not to participate in these auction markets.
Authors: Hisham Ziauddeen, Naresh Subramaniam, Victoria C. Cambridge, Nenad Medic, Ismaa Sadaf Farooqi, Paul C. Fletcher.
Published: 03-19-2014
A key challenge in studying reward processing in humans is to go beyond subjective self-report measures and quantify different aspects of reward such as hedonics, motivation, and goal value in more objective ways. This is particularly relevant for the understanding of overeating and obesity as well as their potential treatments. In this paper are described a set of measures of food-related motivation using handgrip force as a motivational measure. These methods can be used to examine changes in food related motivation with metabolic (satiety) and pharmacological manipulations and can be used to evaluate interventions targeted at overeating and obesity. However to understand food-related decision making in the complex food environment it is essential to be able to ascertain the reward goal values that guide the decisions and behavioral choices that people make. These values are hidden but it is possible to ascertain them more objectively using metrics such as the willingness to pay and a method for this is described. Both these sets of methods provide quantitative measures of motivation and goal value that can be compared within and between individuals.
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Examining BCL-2 Family Function with Large Unilamellar Vesicles
Authors: James J. Asciolla, Thibaud T. Renault, Jerry E. Chipuk.
Institutions: Mount Sinai School of Medicine .
The BCL-2 (B cell CLL/Lymphoma) family is comprised of approximately twenty proteins that collaborate to either maintain cell survival or initiate apoptosis1. Following cellular stress (e.g., DNA damage), the pro-apoptotic BCL-2 family effectors BAK (BCL-2 antagonistic killer 1) and/or BAX (BCL-2 associated X protein) become activated and compromise the integrity of the outer mitochondrial membrane (OMM), though the process referred to as mitochondrial outer membrane permeabilization (MOMP)1. After MOMP occurs, pro-apoptotic proteins (e.g., cytochrome c) gain access to the cytoplasm, promote caspase activation, and apoptosis rapidly ensues2. In order for BAK/BAX to induce MOMP, they require transient interactions with members of another pro-apoptotic subset of the BCL-2 family, the BCL-2 homology domain 3 (BH3)-only proteins, such as BID (BH3-interacting domain agonist)3-6. Anti-apoptotic BCL-2 family proteins (e.g., BCL-2 related gene, long isoform, BCL-xL; myeloid cell leukemia 1, MCL-1) regulate cellular survival by tightly controlling the interactions between BAK/BAX and the BH3-only proteins capable of directly inducing BAK/BAX activation7,8. In addition, anti-apoptotic BCL-2 protein availability is also dictated by sensitizer/de-repressor BH3-only proteins, such as BAD (BCL-2 antagonist of cell death) or PUMA (p53 upregulated modulator of apoptosis), which bind and inhibit anti-apoptotic members7,9. As most of the anti-apoptotic BCL-2 repertoire is localized to the OMM, the cellular decision to maintain survival or induce MOMP is dictated by multiple BCL-2 family interactions at this membrane. Large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) are a biochemical model to explore relationships between BCL-2 family interactions and membrane permeabilization10. LUVs are comprised of defined lipids that are assembled in ratios identified in lipid composition studies from solvent extracted Xenopus mitochondria (46.5% phosphatidylcholine, 28.5% phosphatidylethanoloamine, 9% phosphatidylinositol, 9% phosphatidylserine, and 7% cardiolipin)10. This is a convenient model system to directly explore BCL-2 family function because the protein and lipid components are completely defined and tractable, which is not always the case with primary mitochondria. While cardiolipin is not usually this high throughout the OMM, this model does faithfully mimic the OMM to promote BCL-2 family function. Furthermore, a more recent modification of the above protocol allows for kinetic analyses of protein interactions and real-time measurements of membrane permeabilization, which is based on LUVs containing a polyanionic dye (ANTS: 8-aminonaphthalene-1,3,6-trisulfonic acid) and cationic quencher (DPX: p-xylene-bis-pyridinium bromide)11. As the LUVs permeabilize, ANTS and DPX diffuse apart, and a gain in fluorescence is detected. Here, commonly used recombinant BCL-2 family protein combinations and controls using the LUVs containing ANTS/DPX are described.
Cancer Biology, Issue 68, Genetics, Molecular Biology, Apoptosis, BAX, BCL-2 family, large unilamellar vesicles, MOMP, outer mitochondrial membrane
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Radio Frequency Identification and Motion-sensitive Video Efficiently Automate Recording of Unrewarded Choice Behavior by Bumblebees
Authors: Levente L. Orbán, Catherine M.S. Plowright.
Institutions: University of Ottawa.
We present two methods for observing bumblebee choice behavior in an enclosed testing space. The first method consists of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) readers built into artificial flowers that display various visual cues, and RFID tags (i.e., passive transponders) glued to the thorax of bumblebee workers. The novelty in our implementation is that RFID readers are built directly into artificial flowers that are capable of displaying several distinct visual properties such as color, pattern type, spatial frequency (i.e., “busyness” of the pattern), and symmetry (spatial frequency and symmetry were not manipulated in this experiment). Additionally, these visual displays in conjunction with the automated systems are capable of recording unrewarded and untrained choice behavior. The second method consists of recording choice behavior at artificial flowers using motion-sensitive high-definition camcorders. Bumblebees have number tags glued to their thoraces for unique identification. The advantage in this implementation over RFID is that in addition to observing landing behavior, alternate measures of preference such as hovering and antennation may also be observed. Both automation methods increase experimental control, and internal validity by allowing larger scale studies that take into account individual differences. External validity is also improved because bees can freely enter and exit the testing environment without constraints such as the availability of a research assistant on-site. Compared to human observation in real time, the automated methods are more cost-effective and possibly less error-prone.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, bumblebee, unlearned behaviors, floral choice, visual perception, Bombus spp, information processing, radio-frequency identification, motion-sensitive video
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A Novel Procedure for Evaluating the Reinforcing Properties of Tastants in Laboratory Rats: Operant Intraoral Self-administration
Authors: AnneMarie Levy, Cheryl L. Limebeer, Justin Ferdinand, Ucal Shillingford, Linda A. Parker, Francesco Leri.
Institutions: University of Guelph.
This paper describes a novel method for studying the bio-behavioral basis of addiction to food. This method combines the surgical component of taste reactivity with the behavioral aspects of operant self-administration of drugs. Under very brief general anaesthesia, rats are implanted with an intraoral (IO) cannula that allows delivery of test solutions directly in the oral cavity. Animals are then tested in operant self-administration chambers whereby they can press a lever to receive IO infusions of test solutions. IO self-administration has several advantages over experimental procedures that involve drinking a solution from a spout or operant responding for solid pellets or solutions delivered in a receptacle. Here, we show that IO self-administration can be employed to study self-administration of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Rats were first tested for self-administration on a progressive ratio (PR) schedule, which assesses the maximum amount of operant behavior that will be emitted for different concentrations of HFCS (i.e. 8%, 25%, and 50%). Following this test, rats self-administered these concentrations on a continuous schedule of reinforcement (i.e. one infusion for each lever press) for 10 consecutive days (1 session/day; each lasting 3 hr), and then they were retested on the PR schedule. On the continuous reinforcement schedule, rats took fewer infusions of higher concentrations, although the lowest concentration of HFCS (8%) maintained more variable self-administration. Furthermore, the PR tests revealed that 8% had lower reinforcing value than 25% and 50%. These results indicate that IO self-administration can be employed to study acquisition and maintenance of responding for sweet solutions. The sensitivity of the operant response to differences in concentration and schedule of reinforcement makes IO self-administration an ideal procedure to investigate the neurobiology of voluntary intake of sweets.
Behavior, Issue 84, Administration, Oral, Conditioning, Operant, Reinforcement (Psychology), Reinforcement Schedule, Taste, Neurosciences, Intraoral infusions, operant chambers, self-administration, high fructose corn syrup, progressive ratio, breakpoint, addiction
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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A New Screening Method for the Directed Evolution of Thermostable Bacteriolytic Enzymes
Authors: Ryan D. Heselpoth, Daniel C. Nelson.
Institutions: University of Maryland .
Directed evolution is defined as a method to harness natural selection in order to engineer proteins to acquire particular properties that are not associated with the protein in nature. Literature has provided numerous examples regarding the implementation of directed evolution to successfully alter molecular specificity and catalysis1. The primary advantage of utilizing directed evolution instead of more rational-based approaches for molecular engineering relates to the volume and diversity of variants that can be screened2. One possible application of directed evolution involves improving structural stability of bacteriolytic enzymes, such as endolysins. Bacteriophage encode and express endolysins to hydrolyze a critical covalent bond in the peptidoglycan (i.e. cell wall) of bacteria, resulting in host cell lysis and liberation of progeny virions. Notably, these enzymes possess the ability to extrinsically induce lysis to susceptible bacteria in the absence of phage and furthermore have been validated both in vitro and in vivo for their therapeutic potential3-5. The subject of our directed evolution study involves the PlyC endolysin, which is composed of PlyCA and PlyCB subunits6. When purified and added extrinsically, the PlyC holoenzyme lyses group A streptococci (GAS) as well as other streptococcal groups in a matter of seconds and furthermore has been validated in vivo against GAS7. Significantly, monitoring residual enzyme kinetics after elevated temperature incubation provides distinct evidence that PlyC loses lytic activity abruptly at 45 °C, suggesting a short therapeutic shelf life, which may limit additional development of this enzyme. Further studies reveal the lack of thermal stability is only observed for the PlyCA subunit, whereas the PlyCB subunit is stable up to ~90 °C (unpublished observation). In addition to PlyC, there are several examples in literature that describe the thermolabile nature of endolysins. For example, the Staphylococcus aureus endolysin LysK and Streptococcus pneumoniae endolysins Cpl-1 and Pal lose activity spontaneously at 42 °C, 43.5 °C and 50.2 °C, respectively8-10. According to the Arrhenius equation, which relates the rate of a chemical reaction to the temperature present in the particular system, an increase in thermostability will correlate with an increase in shelf life expectancy11. Toward this end, directed evolution has been shown to be a useful tool for altering the thermal activity of various molecules in nature, but never has this particular technology been exploited successfully for the study of bacteriolytic enzymes. Likewise, successful accounts of progressing the structural stability of this particular class of antimicrobials altogether are nonexistent. In this video, we employ a novel methodology that uses an error-prone DNA polymerase followed by an optimized screening process using a 96 well microtiter plate format to identify mutations to the PlyCA subunit of the PlyC streptococcal endolysin that correlate to an increase in enzyme kinetic stability (Figure 1). Results after just one round of random mutagenesis suggest the methodology is generating PlyC variants that retain more than twice the residual activity when compared to wild-type (WT) PlyC after elevated temperature treatment.
Immunology, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Microbiology, directed evolution, thermal behavior, thermostability, endolysin, enzybiotic, bacteriolytic, antimicrobial, therapeutic, PlyC
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A Colorimetric Assay that Specifically Measures Granzyme B Proteolytic Activity: Hydrolysis of Boc-Ala-Ala-Asp-S-Bzl
Authors: Magdalena Hagn, Vivien R. Sutton, Joseph A. Trapani.
Institutions: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.
The serine protease Granzyme B (GzmB) mediates target cell apoptosis when released by cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) or natural killer (NK) cells. GzmB is the most studied granzyme in humans and mice and therefore, researchers need specific and reliable tools to study its function and role in pathophysiology. This especially necessitates assays that do not recognize proteases such as caspases or other granzymes that are structurally or functionally related. Here, we apply GzmB’s preference for cleavage after aspartic acid residues in a colorimetric assay using the peptide thioester Boc-Ala-Ala-Asp-S-Bzl. GzmB is the only mammalian serine protease capable of cleaving this substrate. The substrate is cleaved with similar efficiency by human, mouse and rat GzmB, a property not shared by other commercially available peptide substrates, even some that are advertised as being suitable for this purpose. This protocol is demonstrated using unfractionated lysates from activated NK cells or CTL and is also suitable for recombinant proteases generated in a variety of prokaryotic and eukaryotic systems, provided the correct controls are used. This assay is a highly specific method to ascertain the potential pro-apoptotic activity of cytotoxic molecules in mammalian lymphocytes, and of their recombinant counterparts expressed by a variety of methodologies.
Chemistry, Issue 93, Granzyme B, serine protease, peptide thioesters, BOC-Ala-Ala-Asp-S-Bzl, colorimetric substrate, hydrolysis, asp-ase activity
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Clonogenic Assay: Adherent Cells
Authors: Haloom Rafehi, Christian Orlowski, George T. Georgiadis, Katherine Ververis, Assam El-Osta, Tom C. Karagiannis.
Institutions: The Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct, The University of Melbourne, The Alfred Medical Research and Education Precinct, The University of Melbourne.
The clonogenic (or colony forming) assay has been established for more than 50 years; the original paper describing the technique was published in 19561. Apart from documenting the method, the initial landmark study generated the first radiation-dose response curve for X-ray irradiated mammalian (HeLa) cells in culture1. Basically, the clonogenic assay enables an assessment of the differences in reproductive viability (capacity of cells to produce progeny; i.e. a single cell to form a colony of 50 or more cells) between control untreated cells and cells that have undergone various treatments such as exposure to ionising radiation, various chemical compounds (e.g. cytotoxic agents) or in other cases genetic manipulation. The assay has become the most widely accepted technique in radiation biology and has been widely used for evaluating the radiation sensitivity of different cell lines. Further, the clonogenic assay is commonly used for monitoring the efficacy of radiation modifying compounds and for determining the effects of cytotoxic agents and other anti-cancer therapeutics on colony forming ability, in different cell lines. A typical clonogenic survival experiment using adherent cells lines involves three distinct components, 1) treatment of the cell monolayer in tissue culture flasks, 2) preparation of single cell suspensions and plating an appropriate number of cells in petri dishes and 3) fixing and staining colonies following a relevant incubation period, which could range from 1-3 weeks, depending on the cell line. Here we demonstrate the general procedure for performing the clonogenic assay with adherent cell lines with the use of an immortalized human keratinocyte cell line (FEP-1811)2. Also, our aims are to describe common features of clonogenic assays including calculation of the plating efficiency and survival fractions after exposure of cells to radiation, and to exemplify modification of radiation-response with the use of a natural antioxidant formulation.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, clonogenic assay, clonogenic survival, colony staining, colony counting, radiation sensitivity, radiation modification
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Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Authors: Olympia Colizoli, Jaap M. J. Murre, Romke Rouw.
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
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Modeling Neural Immune Signaling of Episodic and Chronic Migraine Using Spreading Depression In Vitro
Authors: Aya D. Pusic, Yelena Y. Grinberg, Heidi M. Mitchell, Richard P. Kraig.
Institutions: The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago Medical Center.
Migraine and its transformation to chronic migraine are healthcare burdens in need of improved treatment options. We seek to define how neural immune signaling modulates the susceptibility to migraine, modeled in vitro using spreading depression (SD), as a means to develop novel therapeutic targets for episodic and chronic migraine. SD is the likely cause of migraine aura and migraine pain. It is a paroxysmal loss of neuronal function triggered by initially increased neuronal activity, which slowly propagates within susceptible brain regions. Normal brain function is exquisitely sensitive to, and relies on, coincident low-level immune signaling. Thus, neural immune signaling likely affects electrical activity of SD, and therefore migraine. Pain perception studies of SD in whole animals are fraught with difficulties, but whole animals are well suited to examine systems biology aspects of migraine since SD activates trigeminal nociceptive pathways. However, whole animal studies alone cannot be used to decipher the cellular and neural circuit mechanisms of SD. Instead, in vitro preparations where environmental conditions can be controlled are necessary. Here, it is important to recognize limitations of acute slices and distinct advantages of hippocampal slice cultures. Acute brain slices cannot reveal subtle changes in immune signaling since preparing the slices alone triggers: pro-inflammatory changes that last days, epileptiform behavior due to high levels of oxygen tension needed to vitalize the slices, and irreversible cell injury at anoxic slice centers. In contrast, we examine immune signaling in mature hippocampal slice cultures since the cultures closely parallel their in vivo counterpart with mature trisynaptic function; show quiescent astrocytes, microglia, and cytokine levels; and SD is easily induced in an unanesthetized preparation. Furthermore, the slices are long-lived and SD can be induced on consecutive days without injury, making this preparation the sole means to-date capable of modeling the neuroimmune consequences of chronic SD, and thus perhaps chronic migraine. We use electrophysiological techniques and non-invasive imaging to measure neuronal cell and circuit functions coincident with SD. Neural immune gene expression variables are measured with qPCR screening, qPCR arrays, and, importantly, use of cDNA preamplification for detection of ultra-low level targets such as interferon-gamma using whole, regional, or specific cell enhanced (via laser dissection microscopy) sampling. Cytokine cascade signaling is further assessed with multiplexed phosphoprotein related targets with gene expression and phosphoprotein changes confirmed via cell-specific immunostaining. Pharmacological and siRNA strategies are used to mimic and modulate SD immune signaling.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, innate immunity, hormesis, microglia, T-cells, hippocampus, slice culture, gene expression, laser dissection microscopy, real-time qPCR, interferon-gamma
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Determination of Protein-ligand Interactions Using Differential Scanning Fluorimetry
Authors: Mirella Vivoli, Halina R. Novak, Jennifer A. Littlechild, Nicholas J. Harmer.
Institutions: University of Exeter.
A wide range of methods are currently available for determining the dissociation constant between a protein and interacting small molecules. However, most of these require access to specialist equipment, and often require a degree of expertise to effectively establish reliable experiments and analyze data. Differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF) is being increasingly used as a robust method for initial screening of proteins for interacting small molecules, either for identifying physiological partners or for hit discovery. This technique has the advantage that it requires only a PCR machine suitable for quantitative PCR, and so suitable instrumentation is available in most institutions; an excellent range of protocols are already available; and there are strong precedents in the literature for multiple uses of the method. Past work has proposed several means of calculating dissociation constants from DSF data, but these are mathematically demanding. Here, we demonstrate a method for estimating dissociation constants from a moderate amount of DSF experimental data. These data can typically be collected and analyzed within a single day. We demonstrate how different models can be used to fit data collected from simple binding events, and where cooperative binding or independent binding sites are present. Finally, we present an example of data analysis in a case where standard models do not apply. These methods are illustrated with data collected on commercially available control proteins, and two proteins from our research program. Overall, our method provides a straightforward way for researchers to rapidly gain further insight into protein-ligand interactions using DSF.
Biophysics, Issue 91, differential scanning fluorimetry, dissociation constant, protein-ligand interactions, StepOne, cooperativity, WcbI.
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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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Measuring the Subjective Value of Risky and Ambiguous Options using Experimental Economics and Functional MRI Methods
Authors: Ifat Levy, Lior Rosenberg Belmaker, Kirk Manson, Agnieszka Tymula, Paul W. Glimcher.
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New York University , New York University , New York University .
Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity1,2, the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method3 to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options4. This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations. In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, decision-making, value, uncertainty, risk, ambiguity
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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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Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Authors: Johannes Felix Buyel, Rainer Fischer.
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Rapid Determination of the Thermal Nociceptive Threshold in Diabetic Rats
Authors: Saeed Alshahrani, Filipe Fernandez-Conti, Amanda Araujo, Mauricio DiFulvio.
Institutions: Wright State University, Universidade São Judas Tadeu.
Painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) is characterized by hyperalgesia i.e., increased sensitivity to noxious stimulus, and allodynia i.e., hypersensitivity to normally innocuous stimuli1. Hyperalgesia and allodynia have been studied in many different rodent models of diabetes mellitus2. However, as stated by Bölcskei et al, determination of "pain" in animal models is challenging due to its subjective nature3. Moreover, the traditional methods used to determine behavioral responses to noxious thermal stimuli usually lack reproducibility and pharmacological sensitivity3. For instance, by using the hot-plate method of Ankier4, flinch, withdrawal and/or licking of either hind- and/or fore-paws is quantified as reflex latencies at constant high thermal stimuli (52-55 °C). However, animals that are hyperalgesic to thermal stimulus do not reproducibly show differences in reflex latencies using those supra-threshold temperatures3,5. As the recently described method of Bölcskei et al.6, the procedures described here allows for the rapid, sensitive and reproducible determination of thermal nociceptive thresholds (TNTs) in mice and rats. The method uses slowly increasing thermal stimulus applied mostly to the skin of mouse/rat plantar surface. The method is particularly sensitive to study anti-nociception during hyperalgesic states such as PDN. The procedures described bellow are based on the ones published in detail by Almási et al 5 and Bölcskei et al 3. The procedures described here have been approved the Laboratory Animal Care and Use Committee (LACUC), Wright State University.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, Diabetes, painful diabetic neuropathy, nociception, thermal nociceptive threshold, nocifensive behavior
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Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Authors: Nikki M. Curthoys, Michael J. Mlodzianoski, Dahan Kim, Samuel T. Hess.
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
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Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Authors: Frank Bucholtz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences. SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
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Interview: Glycolipid Antigen Presentation by CD1d and the Therapeutic Potential of NKT cell Activation
Authors: Mitchell Kronenberg.
Institutions: La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
Natural Killer T cells (NKT) are critical determinants of the immune response to cancer, regulation of autioimmune disease, clearance of infectious agents, and the development of artheriosclerotic plaques. In this interview, Mitch Kronenberg discusses his laboratory's efforts to understand the mechanism through which NKT cells are activated by glycolipid antigens. Central to these studies is CD1d - the antigen presenting molecule that presents glycolipids to NKT cells. The advent of CD1d tetramer technology, a technique developed by the Kronenberg lab, is critical for the sorting and identification of subsets of specific glycolipid-reactive T cells. Mitch explains how glycolipid agonists are being used as therapeutic agents to activate NKT cells in cancer patients and how CD1d tetramers can be used to assess the state of the NKT cell population in vivo following glycolipid agonist therapy. Current status of ongoing clinical trials using these agonists are discussed as well as Mitch's prediction for areas in the field of immunology that will have emerging importance in the near future.
Immunology, Issue 10, Natural Killer T cells, NKT cells, CD1 Tetramers, antigen presentation, glycolipid antigens, CD1d, Mucosal Immunity, Translational Research
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Ole Isacson: Development of New Therapies for Parkinson's Disease
Authors: Ole Isacson.
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Medicine, Issue 3, Parkinson' disease, Neuroscience, dopamine, neuron, L-DOPA, stem cell, transplantation
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Protocols for Oral Infection of Lepidopteran Larvae with Baculovirus
Authors: Wendy Sparks, Huarong Li, Bryony Bonning.
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Baculoviruses are widely used both as protein expression vectors and as insect pest control agents. This video shows how lepidopteran larvae can be infected with polyhedra by droplet feeding and diet plug-based bioassays. This accompanying Springer Protocols section provides an overview of the baculovirus lifecycle and use of baculoviruses as insecticidal agents, including discussion of the pros and cons for use of baculoviruses as insecticides, and progress made in genetic enhancement of baculoviruses for improved insecticidal efficacy.
Plant Biology, Issue 19, Springer Protocols, Baculovirus insecticides, recombinant baculovirus, insect pest management
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Protocols for Microapplicator-assisted Infection of Lepidopteran Larvae with Baculovirus
Authors: Huarong Li, Wendy Sparks, Bryony Bonning.
Institutions: Iowa State University.
Baculoviruses are widely used both as protein expression vectors and as insect pest control agents. . This video shows how lepidopteran larvae can be infected with microapplicator techniques in the gut with baculovirus polyhedra and in the hemolymph with budded virus. This accompanying Springer Protocols section provides an overview of the baculovirus lifecycle and use of baculoviruses as insecticidal agents. Formulation and application of baculoviruses for pest control purposes are described elsewhere.
Plant Biology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Baculovirus insecticides, recombinant baculovirus, insect pest management
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Biocontained Carcass Composting for Control of Infectious Disease Outbreak in Livestock
Authors: Tim Reuter, Weiping Xu, Trevor W. Alexander, Brandon H. Gilroyed, G. Douglas Inglis, Francis J. Larney, Kim Stanford, Tim A. McAllister.
Institutions: Lethbridge Research Centre, Dalian University of Technology, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.
Intensive livestock production systems are particularly vulnerable to natural or intentional (bioterrorist) infectious disease outbreaks. Large numbers of animals housed within a confined area enables rapid dissemination of most infectious agents throughout a herd. Rapid containment is key to controlling any infectious disease outbreak, thus depopulation is often undertaken to prevent spread of a pathogen to the larger livestock population. In that circumstance, a large number of livestock carcasses and contaminated manure are generated that require rapid disposal. Composting lends itself as a rapid-response disposal method for infected carcasses as well as manure and soil that may harbor infectious agents. We designed a bio-contained mortality composting procedure and tested its efficacy for bovine tissue degradation and microbial deactivation. We used materials available on-farm or purchasable from local farm supply stores in order that the system can be implemented at the site of a disease outbreak. In this study, temperatures exceeded 55°C for more than one month and infectious agents implanted in beef cattle carcasses and manure were inactivated within 14 days of composting. After 147 days, carcasses were almost completely degraded. The few long bones remaining were further degraded with an additional composting cycle in open windrows and the final mature compost was suitable for land application. Duplicate compost structures (final dimensions 25 m x 5 m x 2.4 m; L x W x H) were constructed using barley straw bales and lined with heavy black silage plastic sheeting. Each was loaded with loose straw, carcasses and manure totaling ~95,000 kg. A 40-cm base layer of loose barley straw was placed in each bunker, onto which were placed 16 feedlot cattle mortalities (average weight 343 kg) aligned transversely at a spacing of approximately 0.5 m. For passive aeration, lengths of flexible, perforated plastic drainage tubing (15 cm diameter) were placed between adjacent carcasses, extending vertically along both inside walls, and with the ends passed though the plastic to the exterior. The carcasses were overlaid with moist aerated feedlot manure (~1.6 m deep) to the top of the bunker. Plastic was folded over the top and sealed with tape to establish a containment barrier and eight aeration vents (50 x 50 x 15 cm) were placed on the top of each structure to promote passive aeration. After 147 days, losses of volume and mass of composted materials averaged 39.8% and 23.7%, respectively, in each structure.
JoVE Infectious Diseases, Issue 39, compost, livestock, infectious disease, biocontainment
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