One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1 Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23 However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g., vocabulary),5 or include a significant motor component (e.g., pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22 This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g., laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24 Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
Handwriting Analysis Indicates Spontaneous Dyskinesias in Neuroleptic Naïve Adolescents at High Risk for Psychosis
Institutions: University of Colorado Boulder, NeuroScript LLC, University of California, San Diego.
Growing evidence suggests that movement abnormalities are a core feature of psychosis. One marker of movement abnormality, dyskinesia, is a result of impaired neuromodulation of dopamine in fronto-striatal pathways. The traditional methods for identifying movement abnormalities include observer-based reports and force stability gauges. The drawbacks of these methods are long training times for raters, experimenter bias, large site differences in instrumental apparatus, and suboptimal reliability. Taking these drawbacks into account has guided the development of better standardized and more efficient procedures to examine movement abnormalities through handwriting analysis software and tablet. Individuals at risk for psychosis showed significantly more dysfluent pen movements (a proximal measure for dyskinesia) in a handwriting task. Handwriting kinematics offers a great advance over previous methods of assessing dyskinesia, which could clearly be beneficial for understanding the etiology of psychosis.
Behavior, Issue 81, Schizophrenia, Disorders with Psychotic Features, Psychology, Clinical, Psychopathology, behavioral sciences, Movement abnormalities, Ultra High Risk, psychosis, handwriting, computer tablet, dyskinesia
Quantitative Assessment of Cortical Auditory-tactile Processing in Children with Disabilities
Institutions: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University.
Objective and easy measurement of sensory processing is extremely difficult in nonverbal or vulnerable pediatric patients. We developed a new methodology to quantitatively assess children's cortical processing of light touch, speech sounds and the multisensory processing of the 2 stimuli, without requiring active subject participation or causing children discomfort. To accomplish this we developed a dual channel, time and strength calibrated air puff stimulator that allows both tactile stimulation and sham control. We combined this with the use of event-related potential methodology to allow for high temporal resolution of signals from the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices as well as higher order processing. This methodology also allowed us to measure a multisensory response to auditory-tactile stimulation.
Behavior, Issue 83, somatosensory, event related potential, auditory-tactile, multisensory, cortical response, child
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search
Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy of the Sensory and Motor Brain Regions with Simultaneous Kinematic and EMG Monitoring During Motor Tasks
Institutions: National Institutes of Health.
There are several advantages that functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) presents in the study of the neural control of human movement. It is relatively flexible with respect to participant positioning and allows for some head movements during tasks. Additionally, it is inexpensive, light weight, and portable, with very few contraindications to its use. This presents a unique opportunity to study functional brain activity during motor tasks in individuals who are typically developing, as well as those with movement disorders, such as cerebral palsy. An additional consideration when studying movement disorders, however, is the quality of actual movements performed and the potential for additional, unintended movements. Therefore, concurrent monitoring of both blood flow changes in the brain and actual movements of the body during testing is required for appropriate interpretation of fNIRS results. Here, we show a protocol for the combination of fNIRS with muscle and kinematic monitoring during motor tasks. We explore gait, a unilateral multi-joint movement (cycling), and two unilateral single-joint movements (isolated ankle dorsiflexion, and isolated hand squeezing). The techniques presented can be useful in studying both typical and atypical motor control, and can be modified to investigate a broad range of tasks and scientific questions.
Behavior, Issue 94, functional near infrared spectroscopy, fNIRS, brain activity, gait, motor tasks, cerebral palsy, coordination
Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+ Itpr3tf
/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
P50 Sensory Gating in Infants
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Colorado State University.
Attentional deficits are common in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar mood disorder, and schizophrenia. There has been increasing interest in the neurodevelopmental components of these attentional deficits; neurodevelopmental meaning that while the deficits become clinically prominent in childhood or adulthood, the deficits are the results of problems in brain development that begin in infancy or even prenatally. Despite this interest, there are few methods for assessing attention very early in infancy. This report focuses on one method, infant auditory P50 sensory gating.
Attention has several components. One of the earliest components of attention, termed sensory gating, allows the brain to tune out repetitive, noninformative sensory information. Auditory P50 sensory gating refers to one task designed to measure sensory gating using changes in EEG. When identical auditory stimuli are presented 500 ms apart, the evoked response (change in the EEG associated with the processing of the click) to the second stimulus is generally reduced relative to the response to the first stimulus (i.e.
the response is "gated"). When response to the second stimulus is not reduced, this is considered a poor sensory gating, is reflective of impaired cerebral inhibition, and is correlated with attentional deficits.
Because the auditory P50 sensory gating task is passive, it is of potential utility in the study of young infants and may provide a window into the developmental time course of attentional deficits in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders. The goal of this presentation is to describe the methodology for assessing infant auditory P50 sensory gating, a methodology adapted from those used in studies of adult populations.
Behavior, Issue 82, Child Development, Psychophysiology, Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders, Evoked Potentials, Auditory, auditory evoked potential, sensory gating, infant, attention, electrophysiology, infants, sensory gating, endophenotype, attention, P50
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Technique and Considerations in the Use of 4x1 Ring High-definition Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (HD-tDCS)
Institutions: Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador, Charité University Medicine Berlin, The City College of The City University of New York, University of Michigan.
High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) has recently been developed as a noninvasive brain stimulation approach that increases the accuracy of current delivery to the brain by using arrays of smaller "high-definition" electrodes, instead of the larger pad-electrodes of conventional tDCS. Targeting is achieved by energizing electrodes placed in predetermined configurations. One of these is the 4x1-ring configuration. In this approach, a center ring electrode (anode or cathode) overlying the target cortical region is surrounded by four return electrodes, which help circumscribe the area of stimulation. Delivery of 4x1-ring HD-tDCS is capable of inducing significant neurophysiological and clinical effects in both healthy subjects and patients. Furthermore, its tolerability is supported by studies using intensities as high as 2.0 milliamperes for up to twenty minutes.
Even though 4x1 HD-tDCS is simple to perform, correct electrode positioning is important in order to accurately stimulate target cortical regions and exert its neuromodulatory effects. The use of electrodes and hardware that have specifically been tested for HD-tDCS is critical for safety and tolerability. Given that most published studies on 4x1 HD-tDCS have targeted the primary motor cortex (M1), particularly for pain-related outcomes, the purpose of this article is to systematically describe its use for M1 stimulation, as well as the considerations to be taken for safe and effective stimulation. However, the methods outlined here can be adapted for other HD-tDCS configurations and cortical targets.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Physiology, Anatomy, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics, Neurophysiology, Nervous System Diseases, Diagnosis, Therapeutics, Anesthesia and Analgesia, Investigative Techniques, Equipment and Supplies, Mental Disorders, Transcranial direct current stimulation, tDCS, High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation, HD-tDCS, Electrical brain stimulation, Transcranial electrical stimulation (tES), Noninvasive Brain Stimulation, Neuromodulation, non-invasive, brain, stimulation, clinical techniques
Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Institutions: Alpert Medical School, Brown University, University of Georgia.
Complementary structural and functional neuroimaging techniques used to examine the Default Mode Network (DMN) could potentially improve assessments of psychiatric illness severity and provide added validity to the clinical diagnostic process. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that DMN processes may be disrupted in a number of stress-related psychiatric illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although specific DMN functions remain under investigation, it is generally thought to be involved in introspection and self-processing. In healthy individuals it exhibits greatest activity during periods of rest, with less activity, observed as deactivation, during cognitive tasks, e.g.
, working memory. This network consists of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, lateral parietal cortices and medial temporal regions.
Multiple functional and structural imaging approaches have been developed to study the DMN. These have unprecedented potential to further the understanding of the function and dysfunction of this network. Functional approaches, such as the evaluation of resting state connectivity and task-induced deactivation, have excellent potential to identify targeted neurocognitive and neuroaffective (functional) diagnostic markers and may indicate illness severity and prognosis with increased accuracy or specificity. Structural approaches, such as evaluation of morphometry and connectivity, may provide unique markers of etiology and long-term outcomes. Combined, functional and structural methods provide strong multimodal, complementary and synergistic approaches to develop valid DMN-based imaging phenotypes in stress-related psychiatric conditions. This protocol aims to integrate these methods to investigate DMN structure and function in PTSD, relating findings to illness severity and relevant clinical factors.
Medicine, Issue 89, default mode network, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, structural connectivity, functional connectivity, posttraumatic stress disorder
Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
Assessment and Evaluation of the High Risk Neonate: The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale
Institutions: Brown University, Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
There has been a long-standing interest in the assessment of the neurobehavioral integrity of the newborn infant. The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) was developed as an assessment for the at-risk infant. These are infants who are at increased risk for poor developmental outcome because of insults during prenatal development, such as substance exposure or prematurity or factors such as poverty, poor nutrition or lack of prenatal care that can have adverse effects on the intrauterine environment and affect the developing fetus. The NNNS assesses the full range of infant neurobehavioral performance including neurological integrity, behavioral functioning, and signs of stress/abstinence. The NNNS is a noninvasive neonatal assessment tool with demonstrated validity as a predictor, not only of medical outcomes such as cerebral palsy diagnosis, neurological abnormalities, and diseases with risks to the brain, but also of developmental outcomes such as mental and motor functioning, behavior problems, school readiness, and IQ. The NNNS can identify infants at high risk for abnormal developmental outcome and is an important clinical tool that enables medical researchers and health practitioners to identify these infants and develop intervention programs to optimize the development of these infants as early as possible. The video shows the NNNS procedures, shows examples of normal and abnormal performance and the various clinical populations in which the exam can be used.
Behavior, Issue 90, NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, NNNS, High risk infant, Assessment, Evaluation, Prediction, Long term outcome
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
Making Sense of Listening: The IMAP Test Battery
Institutions: MRC Institute of Hearing Research, National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing.
The ability to hear is only the first step towards making sense of the range of information contained in an auditory signal. Of equal importance are the abilities to extract and use the information encoded in the auditory signal. We refer to these as listening skills (or auditory processing AP). Deficits in these skills are associated with delayed language and literacy development, though the nature of the relevant deficits and their causal connection with these delays is hotly debated.
When a child is referred to a health professional with normal hearing and unexplained difficulties in listening, or associated delays in language or literacy development, they should ideally be assessed with a combination of psychoacoustic (AP) tests, suitable for children and for use in a clinic, together with cognitive tests to measure attention, working memory, IQ, and language skills. Such a detailed examination needs to be relatively short and within the technical capability of any suitably qualified professional. Current tests for the presence of AP deficits tend to be poorly constructed and inadequately validated within the normal population. They have little or no reference to the presenting symptoms of the child, and typically include a linguistic component. Poor performance may thus reflect problems with language rather than with AP. To assist in the assessment of children with listening difficulties, pediatric audiologists need a single, standardized child-appropriate test battery based on the use of language-free stimuli.
We present the IMAP test battery which was developed at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to supplement tests currently used to investigate cases of suspected AP deficits. IMAP assesses a range of relevant auditory and cognitive skills and takes about one hour to complete. It has been standardized in 1500 normally-hearing children from across the UK, aged 6-11 years. Since its development, it has been successfully used in a number of large scale studies both in the UK and the USA. IMAP provides measures for separating out sensory from cognitive contributions to hearing. It further limits confounds due to procedural effects by presenting tests in a child-friendly game-format. Stimulus-generation, management of test protocols and control of test presentation is mediated by the IHR-STAR software platform. This provides a standardized methodology for a range of applications and ensures replicable procedures across testers. IHR-STAR provides a flexible, user-programmable environment that currently has additional applications for hearing screening, mapping cochlear implant electrodes, and academic research or teaching.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Listening skills, auditory processing, auditory psychophysics, clinical assessment, child-friendly testing
Probing the Brain in Autism Using fMRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Newly emerging theories suggest that the brain does not function as a cohesive unit in autism, and this discordance is reflected in the behavioral symptoms displayed by individuals with autism. While structural neuroimaging findings have provided some insights into brain abnormalities in autism, the consistency of such findings is questionable. Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, has been more fruitful in this regard because autism is a disorder of dynamic processing and allows examination of communication between cortical networks, which appears to be where the underlying problem occurs in autism. Functional connectivity is defined as the temporal correlation of spatially separate neurological events1. Findings from a number of recent fMRI studies have supported the idea that there is weaker coordination between different parts of the brain that should be working together to accomplish complex social or language problems2,3,4,5,6
. One of the mysteries of autism is the coexistence of deficits in several domains along with relatively intact, sometimes enhanced, abilities. Such complex manifestation of autism calls for a global and comprehensive examination of the disorder at the neural level. A compelling recent account of the brain functioning in autism, the cortical underconnectivity theory,2,7
provides an integrating framework for the neurobiological bases of autism. The cortical underconnectivity theory of autism suggests that any language, social, or psychological function that is dependent on the integration of multiple brain regions is susceptible to disruption as the processing demand increases. In autism, the underfunctioning of integrative circuitry in the brain may cause widespread underconnectivity. In other words, people with autism may interpret information in a piecemeal fashion at the expense of the whole. Since cortical underconnectivity among brain regions, especially the frontal cortex and more posterior areas 3,6
, has now been relatively well established, we can begin to further understand brain connectivity as a critical component of autism symptomatology.
A logical next step in this direction is to examine the anatomical connections that may mediate the functional connections mentioned above. Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a relatively novel neuroimaging technique that helps probe the diffusion of water in the brain to infer the integrity of white matter fibers. In this technique, water diffusion in the brain is examined in several directions using diffusion gradients. While functional connectivity provides information about the synchronization of brain activation across different brain areas during a task or during rest, DTI helps in understanding the underlying axonal organization which may facilitate the cross-talk among brain areas. This paper will describe these techniques as valuable tools in understanding the brain in autism and the challenges involved in this line of research.
Medicine, Issue 55, Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Functional Connectivity, Neuroscience, Developmental disorders, Autism, Fractional Anisotropy
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Impairing Effect of Emotion on Cognition
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois, Duke University , Duke University , VA Medical Center, Yale University, University of Illinois, University of Illinois.
Emotions can impact cognition by exerting both enhancing
(e.g., better memory for emotional events) and impairing
(e.g., increased emotional distractibility) effects (reviewed in 1
). Complementing our recent protocol 2
describing a method that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the memory-enhancing effect of emotion (see also 1, 3-5
), here we present a protocol that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotion on cognition. The main feature of this method is that it allows identification of reciprocal modulations between activity in a ventral neural system, involved in 'hot' emotion processing (HotEmo
system), and a dorsal system, involved in higher-level 'cold' cognitive/executive processing (ColdEx
system), which are linked to cognitive performance and to individual variations in behavior (reviewed in 1
). Since its initial introduction 6
, this design has proven particularly versatile and influential in the elucidation of various aspects concerning the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotional distraction on cognition, with a focus on working memory (WM), and of coping with such distraction 7,11
, in both healthy 8-11
and clinical participants 12-14
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Emotion-Cognition Interaction, Cognitive/Emotional Interference, Task-Irrelevant Distraction, Neuroimaging, fMRI, MRI
The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology