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The development of the Problematic Online Gaming Questionnaire (POGQ).
Online gaming has become increasingly popular. However, this has led to concerns that these games might induce serious problems and/or lead to dependence for a minority of players.
Authors: Erin C. Connors, Lindsay A. Yazzolino, Jaime Sánchez, Lotfi B. Merabet.
Published: 03-27-2013
Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
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Measuring Neural and Behavioral Activity During Ongoing Computerized Social Interactions: An Examination of Event-Related Brain Potentials
Authors: Jason R. Themanson.
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University.
Social exclusion is a complex social phenomenon with powerful negative consequences. Given the impact of social exclusion on mental and emotional health, an understanding of how perceptions of social exclusion develop over the course of a social interaction is important for advancing treatments aimed at lessening the harmful costs of being excluded. To date, most scientific examinations of social exclusion have looked at exclusion after a social interaction has been completed. While this has been very helpful in developing an understanding of what happens to a person following exclusion, it has not helped to clarify the moment-to-moment dynamics of the process of social exclusion. Accordingly, the current protocol was developed to obtain an improved understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of event-related brain activation that are present during social interactions. This protocol allows greater precision and sensitivity in detailing the social processes that lead people to feel as though they have been excluded from a social interaction. Importantly, the current protocol can be adapted to include research projects that vary the nature of exclusionary social interactions by altering how frequently participants are included, how long the periods of exclusion will last in each interaction, and when exclusion will take place during the social interactions. Further, the current protocol can be used to examine variables and constructs beyond those related to social exclusion. This capability to address a variety of applications across psychology by obtaining both neural and behavioral data during ongoing social interactions suggests the present protocol could be at the core of a developing area of scientific inquiry related to social interactions.
Behavior, Issue 93, Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), Social Exclusion, Neuroscience, N2, P3, Cognitive Control
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Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Authors: Stacy A. Ruse, Vicki G. Davis, Alexandra S. Atkins, K. Ranga R. Krishnan, Kolleen H. Fox, Philip D. Harvey, Richard S.E. Keefe.
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes.  Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements.  Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning.  Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity.  The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
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The Measurement and Treatment of Suppression in Amblyopia
Authors: Joanna M. Black, Robert F. Hess, Jeremy R. Cooperstock, Long To, Benjamin Thompson.
Institutions: University of Auckland, McGill University , McGill University .
Amblyopia, a developmental disorder of the visual cortex, is one of the leading causes of visual dysfunction in the working age population. Current estimates put the prevalence of amblyopia at approximately 1-3%1-3, the majority of cases being monocular2. Amblyopia is most frequently caused by ocular misalignment (strabismus), blur induced by unequal refractive error (anisometropia), and in some cases by form deprivation. Although amblyopia is initially caused by abnormal visual input in infancy, once established, the visual deficit often remains when normal visual input has been restored using surgery and/or refractive correction. This is because amblyopia is the result of abnormal visual cortex development rather than a problem with the amblyopic eye itself4,5 . Amblyopia is characterized by both monocular and binocular deficits6,7 which include impaired visual acuity and poor or absent stereopsis respectively. The visual dysfunction in amblyopia is often associated with a strong suppression of the inputs from the amblyopic eye under binocular viewing conditions8. Recent work has indicated that suppression may play a central role in both the monocular and binocular deficits associated with amblyopia9,10 . Current clinical tests for suppression tend to verify the presence or absence of suppression rather than giving a quantitative measurement of the degree of suppression. Here we describe a technique for measuring amblyopic suppression with a compact, portable device11,12 . The device consists of a laptop computer connected to a pair of virtual reality goggles. The novelty of the technique lies in the way we present visual stimuli to measure suppression. Stimuli are shown to the amblyopic eye at high contrast while the contrast of the stimuli shown to the non-amblyopic eye are varied. Patients perform a simple signal/noise task that allows for a precise measurement of the strength of excitatory binocular interactions. The contrast offset at which neither eye has a performance advantage is a measure of the "balance point" and is a direct measure of suppression. This technique has been validated psychophysically both in control13,14 and patient6,9,11 populations. In addition to measuring suppression this technique also forms the basis of a novel form of treatment to decrease suppression over time and improve binocular and often monocular function in adult patients with amblyopia12,15,16 . This new treatment approach can be deployed either on the goggle system described above or on a specially modified iPod touch device15.
Medicine, Issue 70, Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Amblyopia, suppression, visual cortex, binocular vision, plasticity, strabismus, anisometropia
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Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Authors: Olympia Colizoli, Jaap M. J. Murre, Romke Rouw.
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
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An Experimental Paradigm for the Prediction of Post-Operative Pain (PPOP)
Authors: Ruth Landau, John C. Kraft, Lisa Y. Flint, Brendan Carvalho, Philippe Richebé, Monica Cardoso, Patricia Lavand'homme, Michal Granot, David Yarnitsky, Alex Cahana.
Institutions: University of Washington School of Medicine.
Many women undergo cesarean delivery without problems, however some experience significant pain after cesarean section. Pain is associated with negative short-term and long-term effects on the mother. Prior to women undergoing surgery, can we predict who is at risk for developing significant postoperative pain and potentially prevent or minimize its negative consequences? These are the fundamental questions that a team from the University of Washington, Stanford University, the Catholic University in Brussels, Belgium, Santa Joana Women's Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, and Rambam Medical Center in Israel is currently evaluating in an international research collaboration. The ultimate goal of this project is to provide optimal pain relief during and after cesarean section by offering individualized anesthetic care to women who appear to be more 'susceptible' to pain after surgery. A significant number of women experience moderate or severe acute post-partum pain after vaginal and cesarean deliveries. 1 Furthermore, 10-15% of women suffer chronic persistent pain after cesarean section. 2 With constant increase in cesarean rates in the US 3 and the already high rate in Brazil, this is bound to create a significant public health problem. When questioning women's fears and expectations from cesarean section, pain during and after it is their greatest concern. 4 Individual variability in severity of pain after vaginal or operative delivery is influenced by multiple factors including sensitivity to pain, psychological factors, age, and genetics. The unique birth experience leads to unpredictable requirements for analgesics, from 'none at all' to 'very high' doses of pain medication. Pain after cesarean section is an excellent model to study post-operative pain because it is performed on otherwise young and healthy women. Therefore, it is recommended to attenuate the pain during the acute phase because this may lead to chronic pain disorders. The impact of developing persistent pain is immense, since it may impair not only the ability of women to care for their child in the immediate postpartum period, but also their own well being for a long period of time. In a series of projects, an international research network is currently investigating the effect of pregnancy on pain modulation and ways to predict who will suffer acute severe pain and potentially chronic pain, by using simple pain tests and questionnaires in combination with genetic analysis. A relatively recent approach to investigate pain modulation is via the psychophysical measure of Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (DNIC). This pain-modulating process is the neurophysiological basis for the well-known phenomenon of 'pain inhibits pain' from remote areas of the body. The DNIC paradigm has evolved recently into a clinical tool and simple test and has been shown to be a predictor of post-operative pain.5 Since pregnancy is associated with decreased pain sensitivity and/or enhanced processes of pain modulation, using tests that investigate pain modulation should provide a better understanding of the pathways involved with pregnancy-induced analgesia and may help predict pain outcomes during labor and delivery. For those women delivering by cesarean section, a DNIC test performed prior to surgery along with psychosocial questionnaires and genetic tests should enable one to identify women prone to suffer severe post-cesarean pain and persistent pain. These clinical tests should allow anesthesiologists to offer not only personalized medicine to women with the promise to improve well-being and satisfaction, but also a reduction in the overall cost of perioperative and long term care due to pain and suffering. On a larger scale, these tests that explore pain modulation may become bedside screening tests to predict the development of pain disorders following surgery.
JoVE Medicine, Issue 35, diffuse noxious inhibitory control, DNIC, temporal summation, TS, psychophysical testing, endogenous analgesia, pain modulation, pregnancy-induced analgesia, cesarean section, post-operative pain, prediction
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Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Authors: Daniel E. Bradford, Katherine P. Magruder, Rachel A. Korhumel, John J. Curtin.
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
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A Standardized Obstacle Course for Assessment of Visual Function in Ultra Low Vision and Artificial Vision
Authors: Amy Catherine Nau, Christine Pintar, Christopher Fisher, Jong-Hyeon Jeong, KwonHo Jeong.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh.
We describe an indoor, portable, standardized course that can be used to evaluate obstacle avoidance in persons who have ultralow vision. Six sighted controls and 36 completely blind but otherwise healthy adult male (n=29) and female (n=13) subjects (age range 19-85 years), were enrolled in one of three studies involving testing of the BrainPort sensory substitution device. Subjects were asked to navigate the course prior to, and after, BrainPort training. They completed a total of 837 course runs in two different locations. Means and standard deviations were calculated across control types, courses, lights, and visits. We used a linear mixed effects model to compare different categories in the PPWS (percent preferred walking speed) and error percent data to show that the course iterations were properly designed. The course is relatively inexpensive, simple to administer, and has been shown to be a feasible way to test mobility function. Data analysis demonstrates that for the outcome of percent error as well as for percentage preferred walking speed, that each of the three courses is different, and that within each level, each of the three iterations are equal. This allows for randomization of the courses during administration. Abbreviations: preferred walking speed (PWS) course speed (CS) percentage preferred walking speed (PPWS)
Medicine, Issue 84, Obstacle course, navigation assessment, BrainPort, wayfinding, low vision
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Engineering Platform and Experimental Protocol for Design and Evaluation of a Neurally-controlled Powered Transfemoral Prosthesis
Authors: Fan Zhang, Ming Liu, Stephen Harper, Michael Lee, He Huang.
Institutions: North Carolina State University & University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Atlantic Prosthetics & Orthotics, LLC.
To enable intuitive operation of powered artificial legs, an interface between user and prosthesis that can recognize the user's movement intent is desired. A novel neural-machine interface (NMI) based on neuromuscular-mechanical fusion developed in our previous study has demonstrated a great potential to accurately identify the intended movement of transfemoral amputees. However, this interface has not yet been integrated with a powered prosthetic leg for true neural control. This study aimed to report (1) a flexible platform to implement and optimize neural control of powered lower limb prosthesis and (2) an experimental setup and protocol to evaluate neural prosthesis control on patients with lower limb amputations. First a platform based on a PC and a visual programming environment were developed to implement the prosthesis control algorithms, including NMI training algorithm, NMI online testing algorithm, and intrinsic control algorithm. To demonstrate the function of this platform, in this study the NMI based on neuromuscular-mechanical fusion was hierarchically integrated with intrinsic control of a prototypical transfemoral prosthesis. One patient with a unilateral transfemoral amputation was recruited to evaluate our implemented neural controller when performing activities, such as standing, level-ground walking, ramp ascent, and ramp descent continuously in the laboratory. A novel experimental setup and protocol were developed in order to test the new prosthesis control safely and efficiently. The presented proof-of-concept platform and experimental setup and protocol could aid the future development and application of neurally-controlled powered artificial legs.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 89, neural control, powered transfemoral prosthesis, electromyography (EMG), neural-machine interface, experimental setup and protocol
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Real-Time DC-dynamic Biasing Method for Switching Time Improvement in Severely Underdamped Fringing-field Electrostatic MEMS Actuators
Authors: Joshua Small, Adam Fruehling, Anurag Garg, Xiaoguang Liu, Dimitrios Peroulis.
Institutions: University of California, Davis, Texas Instruments, Purdue University.
Mechanically underdamped electrostatic fringing-field MEMS actuators are well known for their fast switching operation in response to a unit step input bias voltage. However, the tradeoff for the improved switching performance is a relatively long settling time to reach each gap height in response to various applied voltages. Transient applied bias waveforms are employed to facilitate reduced switching times for electrostatic fringing-field MEMS actuators with high mechanical quality factors. Removing the underlying substrate of the fringing-field actuator creates the low mechanical damping environment necessary to effectively test the concept. The removal of the underlying substrate also a has substantial improvement on the reliability performance of the device in regards to failure due to stiction. Although DC-dynamic biasing is useful in improving settling time, the required slew rates for typical MEMS devices may place aggressive requirements on the charge pumps for fully-integrated on-chip designs. Additionally, there may be challenges integrating the substrate removal step into the back-end-of-line commercial CMOS processing steps. Experimental validation of fabricated actuators demonstrates an improvement of 50x in switching time when compared to conventional step biasing results. Compared to theoretical calculations, the experimental results are in good agreement.
Physics, Issue 90, microelectromechanical systems, actuators, switching time, settling time, electrostatic devices, micromachining, thin film devices
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Authors: Keith J. Yoder, Matthew K. Belmonte.
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al., 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation. The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Authors: Gary E. Raney, Spencer J. Campbell, Joanna C. Bovee.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
The present article describes how to use eye tracking methodologies to study the cognitive processes involved in text comprehension. Measuring eye movements during reading is one of the most precise methods for measuring moment-by-moment (online) processing demands during text comprehension. Cognitive processing demands are reflected by several aspects of eye movement behavior, such as fixation duration, number of fixations, and number of regressions (returning to prior parts of a text). Important properties of eye tracking equipment that researchers need to consider are described, including how frequently the eye position is measured (sampling rate), accuracy of determining eye position, how much head movement is allowed, and ease of use. Also described are properties of stimuli that influence eye movements that need to be controlled in studies of text comprehension, such as the position, frequency, and length of target words. Procedural recommendations related to preparing the participant, setting up and calibrating the equipment, and running a study are given. Representative results are presented to illustrate how data can be evaluated. Although the methodology is described in terms of reading comprehension, much of the information presented can be applied to any study in which participants read verbal stimuli.
Behavior, Issue 83, Eye movements, Eye tracking, Text comprehension, Reading, Cognition
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Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Authors: Hirotaka Shoji, Keizo Takao, Satoko Hattori, Tsuyoshi Miyakawa.
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
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A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Authors: Damien O'Halloran.
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
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BioMEMS and Cellular Biology: Perspectives and Applications
Authors: Albert Folch.
Institutions: University of Washington.
The ability to culture cells has revolutionized hypothesis testing in basic cell and molecular biology research. It has become a standard methodology in drug screening, toxicology, and clinical assays, and is increasingly used in regenerative medicine. However, the traditional cell culture methodology essentially consisting of the immersion of a large population of cells in a homogeneous fluid medium and on a homogeneous flat substrate has become increasingly limiting both from a fundamental and practical perspective. Microfabrication technologies have enabled researchers to design, with micrometer control, the biochemical composition and topology of the substrate, and the medium composition, as well as the neighboring cell type in the surrounding cellular microenvironment. Additionally, microtechnology is conceptually well-suited for the development of fast, low-cost in vitro systems that allow for high-throughput culturing and analysis of cells under large numbers of conditions. In this interview, Albert Folch explains these limitations, how they can be overcome with soft lithography and microfluidics, and describes some relevant examples of research in his lab and future directions.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 8, BioMEMS, Soft Lithography, Microfluidics, Agrin, Axon Guidance, Olfaction, Interview
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Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Authors: Frank Bucholtz.
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences. SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
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Pyrosequencing: A Simple Method for Accurate Genotyping
Authors: Cristi King, Tiffany Scott-Horton.
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis.
Pharmacogenetic research benefits first-hand from the abundance of information provided by the completion of the Human Genome Project. With such a tremendous amount of data available comes an explosion of genotyping methods. Pyrosequencing(R) is one of the most thorough yet simple methods to date used to analyze polymorphisms. It also has the ability to identify tri-allelic, indels, short-repeat polymorphisms, along with determining allele percentages for methylation or pooled sample assessment. In addition, there is a standardized control sequence that provides internal quality control. This method has led to rapid and efficient single-nucleotide polymorphism evaluation including many clinically relevant polymorphisms. The technique and methodology of Pyrosequencing is explained.
Cellular Biology, Issue 11, Springer Protocols, Pyrosequencing, genotype, polymorphism, SNP, pharmacogenetics, pharmacogenomics, PCR
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Making MR Imaging Child's Play - Pediatric Neuroimaging Protocol, Guidelines and Procedure
Authors: Nora M. Raschle, Michelle Lee, Roman Buechler, Joanna A. Christodoulou, Maria Chang, Monica Vakil, Patrice L. Stering, Nadine Gaab.
Institutions: Children’s Hospital Boston, University of Zurich, Harvard, Harvard Medical School.
Within the last decade there has been an increase in the use of structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural basis of human perception, cognition and behavior 1, 2. Moreover, this non-invasive imaging method has grown into a tool for clinicians and researchers to explore typical and atypical brain development. Although advances in neuroimaging tools and techniques are apparent, (f)MRI in young pediatric populations remains relatively infrequent 2. Practical as well as technical challenges when imaging children present clinicians and research teams with a unique set of problems 3, 2. To name just a few, the child participants are challenged by a need for motivation, alertness and cooperation. Anxiety may be an additional factor to be addressed. Researchers or clinicians need to consider time constraints, movement restriction, scanner background noise and unfamiliarity with the MR scanner environment2,4-10. A progressive use of functional and structural neuroimaging in younger age groups, however, could further add to our understanding of brain development. As an example, several research groups are currently working towards early detection of developmental disorders, potentially even before children present associated behavioral characteristics e.g.11. Various strategies and techniques have been reported as a means to ensure comfort and cooperation of young children during neuroimaging sessions. Play therapy 12, behavioral approaches 13, 14,15, 16-18 and simulation 19, the use of mock scanner areas 20,21, basic relaxation 22 and a combination of these techniques 23 have all been shown to improve the participant's compliance and thus MRI data quality. Even more importantly, these strategies have proven to increase the comfort of families and children involved 12. One of the main advances of such techniques for the clinical practice is the possibility of avoiding sedation or general anesthesia (GA) as a way to manage children's compliance during MR imaging sessions 19,20. In the current video report, we present a pediatric neuroimaging protocol with guidelines and procedures that have proven to be successful to date in young children.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, fMRI, imaging, development, children, pediatric neuroimaging, cognitive development, magnetic resonance imaging, pediatric imaging protocol, patient preparation, mock scanner
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Staining Proteins in Gels
Authors: Sean Gallagher, Deb Chakavarti.
Institutions: UVP, LLC, Keck Graduate Institute of Applied Life Sciences.
Following separation by electrophoretic methods, proteins in a gel can be detected by several staining methods. This unit describes protocols for detecting proteins by four popular methods. Coomassie blue staining is an easy and rapid method. Silver staining, while more time consuming, is considerably more sensitive and can thus be used to detect smaller amounts of protein. Fluorescent staining is a popular alternative to traditional staining procedures, mainly because it is more sensitive than Coomassie staining, and is often as sensitive as silver staining. Staining of proteins with SYPRO Orange and SYPRO Ruby are also demonstrated here.
Basic Protocols, Issue 17, Current Protocols Wiley, Coomassie Blue Staining, Silver Staining, SYPROruby, SYPROorange, Protein Detection
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