Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
A Fully Automated Rodent Conditioning Protocol for Sensorimotor Integration and Cognitive Control Experiments
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
Rodents have been traditionally used as a standard animal model in laboratory experiments involving a myriad of sensory, cognitive, and motor tasks. Higher cognitive functions that require precise control over sensorimotor responses such as decision-making and attentional modulation, however, are typically assessed in nonhuman primates. Despite the richness of primate behavior that allows multiple variants of these functions to be studied, the rodent model remains an attractive, cost-effective alternative to primate models. Furthermore, the ability to fully automate operant conditioning in rodents adds unique advantages over the labor intensive training of nonhuman primates while studying a broad range of these complex functions.
Here, we introduce a protocol for operantly conditioning rats on performing working memory tasks. During critical epochs of the task, the protocol ensures that the animal's overt movement is minimized by requiring the animal to 'fixate' until a Go cue is delivered, akin to nonhuman primate experimental design. A simple two alternative forced choice task is implemented to demonstrate the performance. We discuss the application of this paradigm to other tasks.
Behavior, Issue 86, operant conditioning, cognitive function, sensorimotor integration, decision making, Neurophysiology
Irrelevant Stimuli and Action Control: Analyzing the Influence of Ignored Stimuli via the Distractor-Response Binding Paradigm
Institutions: Trier University, Trier University.
Selection tasks in which simple stimuli (e.g.
letters) are presented and a target stimulus has to be selected against one or more distractor stimuli are frequently used in the research on human action control. One important question in these settings is how distractor stimuli, competing with the target stimulus for a response, influence actions. The distractor-response binding paradigm can be used to investigate this influence. It is particular useful to separately analyze response retrieval and distractor inhibition effects. Computer-based experiments are used to collect the data (reaction times and error rates). In a number of sequentially presented pairs of stimulus arrays (prime-probe design), participants respond to targets while ignoring distractor stimuli. Importantly, the factors response relation in the arrays of each pair (repetition vs. change) and distractor relation (repetition vs. change) are varied orthogonally. The repetition of the same distractor then has a different effect depending on response relation (repetition vs. change) between arrays. This result pattern can be explained by response retrieval due to distractor repetition. In addition, distractor inhibition effects are indicated by a general advantage due to distractor repetition. The described paradigm has proven useful to determine relevant parameters for response retrieval effects on human action.
Behavior, Issue 87, stimulus-response binding, distractor-response binding, response retrieval, distractor inhibition, event file, action control, selection task
Automated Visual Cognitive Tasks for Recording Neural Activity Using a Floor Projection Maze
Institutions: Brown University, Brown University.
Neuropsychological tasks used in primates to investigate mechanisms of learning and memory are typically visually guided cognitive tasks. We have developed visual cognitive tasks for rats using the Floor Projection Maze1,2
that are optimized for visual abilities of rats permitting stronger comparisons of experimental findings with other species.
In order to investigate neural correlates of learning and memory, we have integrated electrophysiological recordings into fully automated cognitive tasks on the Floor Projection Maze1,2
. Behavioral software interfaced with an animal tracking system allows monitoring of the animal's behavior with precise control of image presentation and reward contingencies for better trained animals. Integration with an in vivo
electrophysiological recording system enables examination of behavioral correlates of neural activity at selected epochs of a given cognitive task.
We describe protocols for a model system that combines automated visual presentation of information to rodents and intracranial reward with electrophysiological approaches. Our model system offers a sophisticated set of tools as a framework for other cognitive tasks to better isolate and identify specific mechanisms contributing to particular cognitive processes.
Neurobiology, Issue 84, Rat behavioral tasks, visual discrimination, chronic electrophysiological recordings, Floor Projection Maze, neuropsychology, learning, memory
A Comprehensive Protocol for Manual Segmentation of the Medial Temporal Lobe Structures
Institutions: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
The present paper describes a comprehensive protocol for manual tracing of the set of brain regions comprising the medial temporal lobe (MTL): amygdala, hippocampus, and the associated parahippocampal regions (perirhinal, entorhinal, and parahippocampal proper). Unlike most other tracing protocols available, typically focusing on certain MTL areas (e.g.
, amygdala and/or hippocampus), the integrative perspective adopted by the present tracing guidelines allows for clear localization of all MTL subregions. By integrating information from a variety of sources, including extant tracing protocols separately targeting various MTL structures, histological reports, and brain atlases, and with the complement of illustrative visual materials, the present protocol provides an accurate, intuitive, and convenient guide for understanding the MTL anatomy. The need for such tracing guidelines is also emphasized by illustrating possible differences between automatic and manual segmentation protocols. This knowledge can be applied toward research involving not only structural MRI investigations but also structural-functional colocalization and fMRI signal extraction from anatomically defined ROIs, in healthy and clinical groups alike.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, Anatomy, Segmentation, Medial Temporal Lobe, MRI, Manual Tracing, Amygdala, Hippocampus, Perirhinal Cortex, Entorhinal Cortex, Parahippocampal Cortex
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
A Lateralized Odor Learning Model in Neonatal Rats for Dissecting Neural Circuitry Underpinning Memory Formation
Institutions: Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University, University of Victoria.
Rat pups during a critical postnatal period (≤ 10 days) readily form a preference for an odor that is associated with stimuli mimicking maternal care. Such a preference memory can last from hours, to days, even life-long, depending on training parameters. Early odor preference learning provides us with a model in which the critical changes for a natural form of learning occur in the olfactory circuitry. An additional feature that makes it a powerful tool for the analysis of memory processes is that early odor preference learning can be lateralized via
single naris occlusion within the critical period. This is due to the lack of mature anterior commissural connections of the olfactory hemispheres at this early age. This work outlines behavioral protocols for lateralized odor learning using nose plugs. Acute, reversible naris occlusion minimizes tissue and neuronal damages associated with long-term occlusion and more aggressive methods such as cauterization. The lateralized odor learning model permits within-animal comparison, therefore greatly reducing variance compared to between-animal designs. This method has been used successfully to probe the circuit changes in the olfactory system produced by training. Future directions include exploring molecular underpinnings of odor memory using this lateralized learning model; and correlating physiological change with memory strength and durations.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, lateralized odor learning, rats, memory, nose plug, olfactory bulb, piriform cortex, phosphorylated CREB
Trace Fear Conditioning in Mice
Institutions: Baylor University, Baylor University.
In this experiment we present a technique to measure learning and memory. In the trace fear conditioning protocol presented here there are five pairings between a neutral stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus. There is a 20 sec trace period that separates each conditioning trial. On the following day freezing is measured during presentation of the conditioned stimulus (CS) and trace period. On the third day there is an 8 min test to measure contextual memory. The representative results are from mice that were presented with the aversive unconditioned stimulus (shock) compared to mice that received the tone presentations without the unconditioned stimulus. Trace fear conditioning has been successfully used to detect subtle learning and memory deficits and enhancements in mice that are not found with other fear conditioning methods. This type of fear conditioning is believed to be dependent upon connections between the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. One current controversy is whether this method is believed to be amygdala-independent. Therefore, other fear conditioning testing is needed to examine amygdala-dependent learning and memory effects, such as through the delay fear conditioning.
Behavior, Issue 85, fear conditioning, learning, trace conditioning, memory, conditioned and unconditioned stimulus, neutral stimulus, amygdala-dependent learning
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
Comprehensive Analysis of Transcription Dynamics from Brain Samples Following Behavioral Experience
Institutions: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The encoding of experiences in the brain and the consolidation of long-term memories depend on gene transcription. Identifying the function of specific genes in encoding experience is one of the main objectives of molecular neuroscience. Furthermore, the functional association of defined genes with specific behaviors has implications for understanding the basis of neuropsychiatric disorders. Induction of robust transcription programs has been observed in the brains of mice following various behavioral manipulations. While some genetic elements are utilized recurrently following different behavioral manipulations and in different brain nuclei, transcriptional programs are overall unique to the inducing stimuli and the structure in which they are studied1,2
In this publication, a protocol is described for robust and comprehensive transcriptional profiling from brain nuclei of mice in response to behavioral manipulation. The protocol is demonstrated in the context of analysis of gene expression dynamics in the nucleus accumbens following acute cocaine experience. Subsequent to a defined in vivo
experience, the target neural tissue is dissected; followed by RNA purification, reverse transcription and utilization of microfluidic arrays for comprehensive qPCR analysis of multiple target genes. This protocol is geared towards comprehensive analysis (addressing 50-500 genes) of limiting quantities of starting material, such as small brain samples or even single cells.
The protocol is most advantageous for parallel analysis of multiple samples (e.g.
single cells, dynamic analysis following pharmaceutical, viral or behavioral perturbations). However, the protocol could also serve for the characterization and quality assurance of samples prior to whole-genome studies by microarrays or RNAseq, as well as validation of data obtained from whole-genome studies.
Behavior, Issue 90,
Brain, behavior, RNA, transcription, nucleus accumbens, cocaine, high-throughput qPCR, experience-dependent plasticity, gene regulatory networks, microdissection
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
Extinction Training During the Reconsolidation Window Prevents Recovery of Fear
Institutions: Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, New York University , New York University .
Fear is maladaptive when it persists long after circumstances have become safe. It is therefore crucial to develop an approach that persistently prevents the return of fear. Pavlovian fear-conditioning paradigms are commonly employed to create a controlled, novel fear association in the laboratory. After pairing an innocuous stimulus (conditioned stimulus, CS) with an aversive outcome (unconditioned stimulus, US) we can elicit a fear response (conditioned response, or CR) by presenting just the stimulus alone1,2
. Once fear is acquired, it can be diminished using extinction training, whereby the conditioned stimulus is repeatedly presented without the aversive outcome until fear is no longer expressed3
. This inhibitory learning creates a new, safe representation for the CS, which competes for expression with the original fear memory4
. Although extinction is effective at inhibiting fear, it is not permanent. Fear can spontaneously recover with the passage of time. Exposure to stress or returning to the context of initial learning can also cause fear to resurface3,4
Our protocol addresses the transient nature of extinction by targeting the reconsolidation window to modify emotional memory in a more permanent manner. Ample evidence suggests that reactivating a consolidated memory returns it to a labile state, during which the memory is again susceptible to interference5-9
. This window of opportunity appears to open shortly after reactivation and close approximately 6hrs later5,11,16
, although this may vary depending on the strength and age of the memory15
. By allowing new information to incorporate into the original memory trace, this memory may be updated as it reconsolidates10,11
. Studies involving non-human animals have successfully blocked the expression of fear memory by introducing pharmacological manipulations within the reconsolidation window, however, most agents used are either toxic to humans or show equivocal effects when used in human studies12-14
. Our protocol addresses these challenges by offering an effective, yet non-invasive, behavioral manipulation that is safe for humans.
By prompting fear memory retrieval prior to extinction, we essentially trigger the reconsolidation process, allowing new safety information (i.e.
, extinction) to be incorporated while the fear memory is still susceptible to interference. A recent study employing this behavioral manipulation in rats has successfully blocked fear memory using these temporal parameters11
. Additional studies in humans have demonstrated that introducing new information after the retrieval of previously consolidated motor16
, or declarative18
memories leads to interference with the original memory trace14
. We outline below a novel protocol used to block fear recovery in humans.
Neuroscience, Issue 66, Medicine, Psychology, Physiology, Fear conditioning, extinction, reconsolidation, emotional memory, spontaneous recovery, skin conductance response
Investigating Outer Hair Cell Motility with a Combination of External Alternating Electrical Field Stimulation and High-speed Image Analysis
Institutions: House Ear Institute.
OHCs are cylindrical sensorimotor cells located in the Organ of Corti, the auditory organ inside the mammalian inner ear. The name "hair cells" derives from their characteristic apical bundle of stereocilia, a critical element for detection and transduction of sound energy 1
. OHCs are able to change shape —elongate, shorten and bend— in response to electrical, mechanical and chemical stimulation, a motor response considered crucial for cochlear amplification of acoustic signals 2
OHC stimulation induces two different motile responses: i) electromotility, a.k.a fast motility, changes in length in the microsecond range derived from electrically-driven conformational changes in motor proteins densely packed in OHC plasma membrane, and ii) slow motility, shape changes in the millisecond to seconds range involving cytoskeletal reorganization 2, 3
. OHC bending is associated with electromotility, and result either from an asymmetric distribution of motor proteins in the lateral plasma membrane, or asymmetric electrical stimulation of those motor proteins (e.g., with an electrical field perpendicular to the long axis of the cells) 4
. Mechanical and chemical stimuli induce essentially slow motile responses, even though changes in the ionic conditions of the cells and/or their environment can also stimulate the plasma membrane-embedded motor proteins 5, 6
. Since OHC motile responses are an essential component of the cochlear amplifier, the qualitative and quantitative analysis of these motile responses at acoustic frequencies (roughly from 20 Hz to 20 kHz in humans) is a very important matter in the field of hearing research 7
The development of new imaging technology combining high-speed videocameras, LED-based illumination systems, and sophisticated image analysis software now provides the ability to perform reliable qualitative and quantitative studies of the motile response of isolated OHCs to an external alternating electrical field (EAEF) 8
. This is a simple and non-invasive technique that circumvents most of the limitations of previous approaches 9-11
. Moreover, the LED-based illumination system provides extreme brightness with insignificant thermal effects on the samples and, because of the use of video microscopy, optical resolution is at least 10-fold higher than with conventional light microscopy techniques 12
. For instance, with the experimental setup described here, changes in cell length of about 20 nm can be routinely and reliably detected at frequencies of 10 kHz, and this resolution can be further improved at lower frequencies.
We are confident that this experimental approach will help to extend our understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying OHC motility.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Outer Hair Cell, Electromotility, Slow Motility, External Alternating Electrical Field, High-speed Imaging Analysis, Cochlea
Isolation and In vitro Activation of Caenorhabditis elegans Sperm
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Males and hermaphrodites are the two naturally found sexual forms in the nematode C. elegans
. The amoeboid sperm are produced by both males and hermaphrodites. In the earlier phase of gametogenesis, the germ cells of hermaphrodites differentiate into limited number of sperm - around 300 - and are stored in a small 'bag' called the spermatheca. Later on, hermaphrodites continually produce oocytes1
. In contrast, males produce exclusively sperm throughout their adulthood. The males produce so much sperm that it accounts for >50% of the total cells in a typical adult worm2
. Therefore, isolating sperm from males is easier than from that of hermaphrodites.
Only a small proportion of males are naturally generated due to spontaneous non-disjunction of X chromosome3
. Crossing hermaphrodites with males or more conveniently, the introduction of mutations to give rise to Him (High Incidence of Males) phenotype are some of strategies through which one can enrich the male population3
Males can be easily distinguished from hermaphrodites by observing the tail morphology4
. Hermaphrodite's tail is pointed, whereas male tail is rounded with mating structures.
Cutting the tail releases vast number of spermatids stored inside the male reproductive tract. Dissection is performed under a stereo microscope using 27 gauge needles. Since spermatids are not physically connected with any other cells, hydraulic pressure expels internal contents of male body, including spermatids2
Males are directly dissected on a small drop of 'Sperm Medium'. Spermatids are sensitive to alteration in the pH. Hence, HEPES, a compound with good buffering capacity is used in sperm media. Glucose and other salts present in sperm media help maintain osmotic pressure to maintain the integrity of sperm.
Post-meiotic differentiation of spermatids into spermatozoa is termed spermiogenesis or sperm activation. Shakes5
, and Nelson6
previously showed that round spermatids can be induced to differentiate into spermatozoa by adding various activating compounds including Pronase E. Here we demonstrate in vitro
spermiogenesis of C. elegans
spermatids using Pronase E.
Successful spermiogenesis is pre-requisite for fertility and hence the mutants defective in spermiogenesis are sterile. Hitherto several mutants have been shown to be defective specifically in spermiogenesis process7
. Abnormality found during in vitro
activation of novel Spe (Spermatogenesis defective) mutants would help us discover additional players participating in this event.
Developmental Biology, Issue 47, spermatid, spermatozoa, spermiogenesis, protease, pseudopod, nematode
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions
Creating Objects and Object Categories for Studying Perception and Perceptual Learning
Institutions: Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto Research Center, University of Minnesota .
In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1
. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes
) with such properties2
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6
(also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10
, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13
. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14
. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13
. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16
. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13
. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, machine learning, brain, classification, category learning, cross-modal perception, 3-D prototyping, inference
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
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
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
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
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
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo
. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls.
DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e.
voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e.
differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels.
In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
Imaging G-protein Coupled Receptor (GPCR)-mediated Signaling Events that Control Chemotaxis of Dictyostelium Discoideum
Institutions: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Many eukaryotic cells can detect gradients of chemical signals in their environments and migrate accordingly 1
. This guided cell migration is referred as chemotaxis, which is essential for various cells to carry out their functions such as trafficking of immune cells and patterning of neuronal cells 2, 3
. A large family of G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs) detects variable small peptides, known as chemokines, to direct cell migration in vivo 4
. The final goal of chemotaxis research is to understand how a GPCR machinery senses chemokine gradients and controls signaling events leading to chemotaxis. To this end, we use imaging techniques to monitor, in real time, spatiotemporal concentrations of chemoattractants, cell movement in a gradient of chemoattractant, GPCR mediated activation of heterotrimeric G-protein, and intracellular signaling events involved in chemotaxis of eukaryotic cells 5-8
. The simple eukaryotic organism, Dictyostelium discoideum
, displays chemotaxic behaviors that are similar to those of leukocytes, and D. discoideum
is a key model system for studying eukaryotic chemotaxis. As free-living amoebae, D. discoideum
cells divide in rich medium. Upon starvation, cells enter a developmental program in which they aggregate through cAMP-mediated chemotaxis to form multicullular structures. Many components involved in chemotaxis to cAMP have been identified in D. discoideum
. The binding of cAMP to a GPCR (cAR1) induces dissociation of heterotrimeric G-proteins into Gγ and Gβγ subunits 7, 9, 10
. Gβγ subunits activate Ras, which in turn activates PI3K, converting PIP2
on the cell membrane 11-13
serve as binding sites for proteins with pleckstrin Homology (PH) domains, thus recruiting these proteins to the membrane 14, 15
. Activation of cAR1 receptors also controls the membrane associations of PTEN, which dephosphorylates PIP3
to PIP2 16, 17
. The molecular mechanisms are evolutionarily conserved in chemokine GPCR-mediated chemotaxis of human cells such as neutrophils 18
. We present following methods for studying chemotaxis of D. discoideum cells
. 1. Preparation of chemotactic component cells. 2. Imaging chemotaxis of cells in a cAMP gradient. 3. Monitoring a GPCR induced activation of heterotrimeric G-protein in single live cells. 4. Imaging chemoattractant-triggered dynamic PIP3
responses in single live cells in real time. Our developed imaging methods can be applied to study chemotaxis of human leukocytes.
Molecular Biology, Issue 55, Chemotaxis, directional sensing, GPCR, PCR, G-proteins, signal transduction, Dictyostelium discoideum
Cross-Modal Multivariate Pattern Analysis
Institutions: University of Southern California.
Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) is an increasingly popular method of analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data1-4
. Typically, the method is used to identify a subject's perceptual experience from neural activity in certain regions of the brain. For instance, it has been employed to predict the orientation of visual gratings a subject perceives from activity in early visual cortices5
or, analogously, the content of speech from activity in early auditory cortices6
Here, we present an extension of the classical MVPA paradigm, according to which perceptual stimuli are not predicted within, but across sensory systems. Specifically, the method we describe addresses the question of whether stimuli that evoke memory associations in modalities other than the one through which they are presented induce content-specific activity patterns in the sensory cortices of those other modalities. For instance, seeing a muted video clip of a glass vase shattering on the ground automatically triggers in most observers an auditory image of the associated sound; is the experience of this image in the "mind's ear" correlated with a specific neural activity pattern in early auditory cortices? Furthermore, is this activity pattern distinct from the pattern that could be observed if the subject were, instead, watching a video clip of a howling dog?
In two previous studies7,8
, we were able to predict sound- and touch-implying video clips based on neural activity in early auditory and somatosensory cortices, respectively. Our results are in line with a neuroarchitectural framework proposed by Damasio9,10
, according to which the experience of mental images that are based on memories - such as hearing the shattering sound of a vase in the "mind's ear" upon seeing the corresponding video clip - is supported by the re-construction of content-specific neural activity patterns in early sensory cortices.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, perception, sensory, cross-modal, top-down, mental imagery, fMRI, MRI, neuroimaging, multivariate pattern analysis, MVPA
Optimized Fibrin Gel Bead Assay for the Study of Angiogenesis
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
Angiogenesis is a complex multi-step process, where, in response to angiogenic stimuli, new vessels are created from the existing vasculature. These steps include: degradation of the basement membrane, proliferation and migration (sprouting) of endothelial cells (EC) into the extracellular matrix, alignment of EC into cords, branching, lumen formation, anastomosis, and formation of a new basement membrane. Many in vitro assays have been developed to study this process, but most only mimic certain stages of angiogenesis, and morphologically the vessels within the assays often do not resemble vessels in vivo. Based on earlier work by Nehls and Drenckhahn, we have optimized an in vitro angiogenesis assay that utilizes human umbilical vein EC and fibroblasts. This model recapitulates all of the key early stages of angiogenesis and, importantly, the vessels display patent intercellular lumens surrounded by polarized EC. EC are coated onto cytodex microcarriers and embedded into a fibrin gel. Fibroblasts are layered on top of the gel where they provide necessary soluble factors that promote EC sprouting from the surface of the beads. After several days, numerous vessels are present that can easily be observed under phase-contrast and time-lapse microscopy. This video demonstrates the key steps in setting up these cultures.
Cellular Biology, Issue 3, angiogenesis, fibrin, endothelial, in vitro, fibroblasts