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Npas4: a neuronal transcription factor with a key role in social and cognitive functions relevant to developmental disorders.
Npas4 is a transcription factor, which is highly expressed in the brain and regulates the formation and maintenance of inhibitory synapses in response to excitatory synaptic activity. A deregulation of the inhibitory-excitatory balance has been associated with a variety of human developmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism. However, not much is known about the role played by inhibitory synapses and inhibitory pathways in the development of nervous system disorders. We hypothesized that alterations in the inhibitory pathways induced by the absence of Npas4 play a major role in the expression of the symptoms observed in psychiatric disorders. To test this hypothesis we tested mice lacking the transcription factor (Npas4 knock-out mice (Npas4-KO)) in a battery of behavioral assays focusing on general activity, social behaviors, and cognitive functions. Npas4-KO mice are hyperactive in a novel environment, spend less time exploring an unfamiliar ovariectomized female, spend more time avoiding an unfamiliar male during a first encounter, show higher social dominance than their WT littermates, and display pre-pulse inhibition, working memory, long-term memory, and cognitive flexibility deficits. These behavioral deficits may replicate schizophrenia-related symptomatology such as social anxiety, hyperactivity, and cognitive and sensorimotor gating deficits. Immunohistochemistry analyses revealed that Npas4 expression is induced in the hippocampus after a social encounter and that Npas4 regulates the expression of c-Fos in the CA1 and CA3 regions of the hippocampus after a cognitive task. Our results suggest that Npas4 may play a major role in the regulation of cognitive and social functions in the brain with possible implications for developmental disorders such as schizophrenia and autism.
Authors: Oksana Kaidanovich-Beilin, Tatiana Lipina, Igor Vukobradovic, John Roder, James R. Woodgett.
Published: 02-25-2011
Social interactions are a fundamental and adaptive component of the biology of numerous species. Social recognition is critical for the structure and stability of the networks and relationships that define societies. For animals, such as mice, recognition of conspecifics may be important for maintaining social hierarchy and for mate choice 1. A variety of neuropsychiatric disorders are characterized by disruptions in social behavior and social recognition, including depression, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and schizophrenia. Studies of humans as well as animal models (e.g., Drosophila melanogaster, Caenorhabditis elegans, Mus musculus, Rattus norvegicus) have identified genes involved in the regulation of social behavior 2. To assess sociability in animal models, several behavioral tests have been developed (reviewed in 3). Integrative research using animal models and appropriate tests for social behavior may lead to the development of improved treatments for social psychopathologies. The three-chamber paradigm test known as Crawley's sociability and preference for social novelty protocol has been successfully employed to study social affiliation and social memory in several inbred and mutant mouse lines (e.g. 4-7). The main principle of this test is based on the free choice by a subject mouse to spend time in any of three box's compartments during two experimental sessions, including indirect contact with one or two mice with which it is unfamiliar. To quantitate social tendencies of the experimental mouse, the main tasks are to measure a) the time spent with a novel conspecific and b) preference for a novel vs. a familiar conspecific. Thus, the experimental design of this test allows evaluation of two critical but distinguishable aspects of social behavior, such as social affiliation/motivation, as well as social memory and novelty. "Sociability" in this case is defined as propensity to spend time with another mouse, as compared to time spent alone in an identical but empty chamber 7. "Preference for social novelty" is defined as propensity to spend time with a previously unencountered mouse rather than with a familiar mouse 7. This test provides robust results, which then must be carefully analyzed, interpreted and supported/confirmed by alternative sociability tests. In addition to specific applications, Crawley's sociability test can be included as an important component of general behavioral screen of mutant mice.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
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Light/dark Transition Test for Mice
Authors: Keizo Takao, Tsuyoshi Miyakawa.
Institutions: Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University.
Although all of the mouse genome sequences have been determined, we do not yet know the functions of most of these genes. Gene-targeting techniques, however, can be used to delete or manipulate a specific gene in mice. The influence of a given gene on a specific behavior can then be determined by conducting behavioral analyses of the mutant mice. As a test for behavioral phenotyping of mutant mice, the light/dark transition test is one of the most widely used tests to measure anxiety-like behavior in mice. The test is based on the natural aversion of mice to brightly illuminated areas and on their spontaneous exploratory behavior in novel environments. The test is sensitive to anxiolytic drug treatment. The apparatus consists of a dark chamber and a brightly illuminated chamber. Mice are allowed to move freely between the two chambers. The number of entries into the bright chamber and the duration of time spent there are indices of bright-space anxiety in mice. To obtain phenotyping results of a strain of mutant mice that can be readily reproduced and compared with those of other mutants, the behavioral test methods should be as identical as possible between laboratories. The procedural differences that exist between laboratories, however, make it difficult to replicate or compare the results among laboratories. Here, we present our protocol for the light/dark transition test as a movie so that the details of the protocol can be demonstrated. In our laboratory, we have assessed more than 60 strains of mutant mice using the protocol shown in the movie. Those data will be disclosed as a part of a public database that we are now constructing. Visualization of the protocol will facilitate understanding of the details of the entire experimental procedure, allowing for standardization of the protocols used across laboratories and comparisons of the behavioral phenotypes of various strains of mutant mice assessed using this test.
Neuroscience, Issue 1, knockout mice, transgenic mice, behavioral test, phenotyping
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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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Marble Burying and Nestlet Shredding as Tests of Repetitive, Compulsive-like Behaviors in Mice
Authors: Mariana Angoa-Pérez, Michael J. Kane, Denise I. Briggs, Dina M. Francescutti, Donald M. Kuhn.
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are serious and debilitating psychiatric conditions and each constitutes a significant public health concern, particularly in children. Both of these conditions are highlighted by the repeated expression of meaningless behaviors. Individuals with OCD often show checking, frequent hand washing, and counting. Children with ASDs also engage in repetitive tapping, arm or hand flapping, and rocking. These behaviors can vary widely in intensity and frequency of expression. More intense forms of repetitive behaviors can even result in injury (e.g. excessive grooming, hand washing, and self-stimulation). These behaviors are therefore very disruptive and make normal social discourse difficult. Treatment options for repetitive behaviors in OCD and ASDs are somewhat limited and there is great interest in developing more effective therapies for each condition. Numerous animal models for evaluating compulsive-like behaviors have been developed over the past three decades. Perhaps the animal models with the greatest validity and ease of use are the marble burying test and the nestlet shredding test. Both tests take advantage of the fact that the target behaviors occur spontaneously in mice. In the marble burying test, 20 marbles are arrayed on the surface of clean bedding. The number of marbles buried in a 30 min session is scored by investigators blind to the treatment or status of the subjects. In the nestlet shredding test, a nestlet comprised of pulped cotton fiber is preweighed and placed on top of cage bedding and the amount of the nestlet remaining intact after a 30 min test session is determined. Presently, we describe protocols for and show movie documentation of marble burying and nestlet shredding. Both tests are easily and accurately scored and each is sensitive to small changes in the expression of compulsive-like behaviors that result from genetic manipulations, disease, or head injury.
Behavior, Issue 82, compulsive-like behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), marble burying, nestlet shredding, TPH2 KO mice
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Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Authors: Cheryl S. Rosenfeld, Sherry A. Ferguson.
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
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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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EEG Mu Rhythm in Typical and Atypical Development
Authors: Raphael Bernier, Benjamin Aaronson, Anna Kresse.
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is an effective, efficient, and noninvasive method of assessing and recording brain activity. Given the excellent temporal resolution, EEG can be used to examine the neural response related to specific behaviors, states, or external stimuli. An example of this utility is the assessment of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in humans through the examination of the EEG mu rhythm. The EEG mu rhythm, oscillatory activity in the 8-12 Hz frequency range recorded from centrally located electrodes, is suppressed when an individual executes, or simply observes, goal directed actions. As such, it has been proposed to reflect activity of the MNS. It has been theorized that dysfunction in the mirror neuron system (MNS) plays a contributing role in the social deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The MNS can then be noninvasively examined in clinical populations by using EEG mu rhythm attenuation as an index for its activity. The described protocol provides an avenue to examine social cognitive functions theoretically linked to the MNS in individuals with typical and atypical development, such as ASD. 
Medicine, Issue 86, Electroencephalography (EEG), mu rhythm, imitation, autism spectrum disorder, social cognition, mirror neuron system
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The 5-Choice Serial Reaction Time Task: A Task of Attention and Impulse Control for Rodents
Authors: Samuel K. Asinof, Tracie A. Paine.
Institutions: Oberlin College.
This protocol describes the 5-choice serial reaction time task, which is an operant based task used to study attention and impulse control in rodents. Test day challenges, modifications to the standard task, can be used to systematically tax the neural systems controlling either attention or impulse control. Importantly, these challenges have consistent effects on behavior across laboratories in intact animals and can reveal either enhancements or deficits in cognitive function that are not apparent when rats are only tested on the standard task. The variety of behavioral measures that are collected can be used to determine if other factors (i.e., sedation, motivation deficits, locomotor impairments) are contributing to changes in performance. The versatility of the 5CSRTT is further enhanced because it is amenable to combination with pharmacological, molecular, and genetic techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, attention, impulse control, neuroscience, cognition, rodent
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Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Authors: Noah S. Philip, S. Louisa Carpenter, Lawrence H. Sweet.
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
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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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Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Authors: Madeleine E. Hackney, Kathleen McKee.
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
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Methods for the Modulation and Analysis of NF-κB-dependent Adult Neurogenesis
Authors: Darius Widera, Janine Müller, Yvonne Imielski, Peter Heimann, Christian Kaltschmidt, Barbara Kaltschmidt.
Institutions: University of Bielefeld, University of Bielefeld.
The hippocampus plays a pivotal role in the formation and consolidation of episodic memories, and in spatial orientation. Historically, the adult hippocampus has been viewed as a very static anatomical region of the mammalian brain. However, recent findings have demonstrated that the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus is an area of tremendous plasticity in adults, involving not only modifications of existing neuronal circuits, but also adult neurogenesis. This plasticity is regulated by complex transcriptional networks, in which the transcription factor NF-κB plays a prominent role. To study and manipulate adult neurogenesis, a transgenic mouse model for forebrain-specific neuronal inhibition of NF-κB activity can be used. In this study, methods are described for the analysis of NF-κB-dependent neurogenesis, including its structural aspects, neuronal apoptosis and progenitor proliferation, and cognitive significance, which was specifically assessed via a dentate gyrus (DG)-dependent behavioral test, the spatial pattern separation-Barnes maze (SPS-BM). The SPS-BM protocol could be simply adapted for use with other transgenic animal models designed to assess the influence of particular genes on adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Furthermore, SPS-BM could be used in other experimental settings aimed at investigating and manipulating DG-dependent learning, for example, using pharmacological agents.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, NF-κB, hippocampus, Adult neurogenesis, spatial pattern separation-Barnes maze, dentate gyrus, p65 knock-out mice
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Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Authors: Jacklyn D. Smith, Jong M. Rho, Susan A. Masino, Richelle Mychasiuk.
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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Elevated Plus Maze for Mice
Authors: Munekazu Komada, Keizo Takao, Tsuyoshi Miyakawa.
Institutions: Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, Fujita Health University.
Although the mouse genome is now completely sequenced, the functions of most of the genes expressed in the brain are not known. The influence of a given gene on a specific behavior can be determined by behavioral analysis of mutant mice. If a target gene is expressed in the brain, behavioral phenotype of the mutant mice could elucidate the genetic mechanism of normal behaviors. The elevated plus maze test is one of the most widely used tests for measuring anxiety-like behavior. The test is based on the natural aversion of mice for open and elevated areas, as well as on their natural spontaneous exploratory behavior in novel environments. The apparatus consists of open arms and closed arms, crossed in the middle perpendicularly to each other, and a center area. Mice are given access to all of the arms and are allowed to move freely between them. The number of entries into the open arms and the time spent in the open arms are used as indices of open space-induced anxiety in mice. Unfortunately, the procedural differences that exist between laboratories make it difficult to duplicate and compare results among laboratories. Here, we present a detailed movie demonstrating our protocol for the elevated plus maze test. In our laboratory, we have assessed more than 90 strains of mutant mice using the protocol shown in the movie. These data will be disclosed as a part of a public database that we are now constructing. Visualization of the protocol will promote better understanding of the details of the entire experimental procedure, allowing for standardization of the protocols used in different laboratories and comparisons of the behavioral phenotypes of various strains of mutant mice assessed using this test.
Neuroscience, Issue 22, Knockout mice, genetically engineered mice, behavioral test, phenotyping
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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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Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Authors: Brittany Baierlein, Alison L. Thurow, Harold L. Atwood, Robin L. Cooper.
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+ on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
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Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Authors: Laura E. Brown, Celine Fuchs, Martin W. Nicholson, F. Anne Stephenson, Alex M. Thomson, Jasmina N. Jovanovic.
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA receptors (GABAARs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials. During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAARs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other. To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAAR subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAAR subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAARs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
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Investigations on Alterations of Hippocampal Circuit Function Following Mild Traumatic Brain Injury
Authors: Colin J. Smith, Brian N. Johnson, Jaclynn A. Elkind, Jill M. See, Guoxiang Xiong, Akiva S. Cohen.
Institutions: Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) afflicts more than 1.7 million people in the United States each year and even mild TBI can lead to persistent neurological impairments 1. Two pervasive and disabling symptoms experienced by TBI survivors, memory deficits and a reduction in seizure threshold, are thought to be mediated by TBI-induced hippocampal dysfunction 2,3. In order to demonstrate how altered hippocampal circuit function adversely affects behavior after TBI in mice, we employ lateral fluid percussion injury, a commonly used animal model of TBI that recreates many features of human TBI including neuronal cell loss, gliosis, and ionic perturbation 4-6. Here we demonstrate a combinatorial method for investigating TBI-induced hippocampal dysfunction. Our approach incorporates multiple ex vivo physiological techniques together with animal behavior and biochemical analysis, in order to analyze post-TBI changes in the hippocampus. We begin with the experimental injury paradigm along with behavioral analysis to assess cognitive disability following TBI. Next, we feature three distinct ex vivo recording techniques: extracellular field potential recording, visualized whole-cell patch-clamping, and voltage sensitive dye recording. Finally, we demonstrate a method for regionally dissecting subregions of the hippocampus that can be useful for detailed analysis of neurochemical and metabolic alterations post-TBI. These methods have been used to examine the alterations in hippocampal circuitry following TBI and to probe the opposing changes in network circuit function that occur in the dentate gyrus and CA1 subregions of the hippocampus (see Figure 1). The ability to analyze the post-TBI changes in each subregion is essential to understanding the underlying mechanisms contributing to TBI-induced behavioral and cognitive deficits. The multi-faceted system outlined here allows investigators to push past characterization of phenomenology induced by a disease state (in this case TBI) and determine the mechanisms responsible for the observed pathology associated with TBI.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, hippocampus, traumatic brain injury, electrophysiology, patch clamp, voltage sensitive dye, extracellular recording, high-performance liquid chromatography, gas chromatography-mass spectrometry
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P50 Sensory Gating in Infants
Authors: Anne Spencer Ross, Sharon Kay Hunter, Mark A Groth, Randal Glenn Ross.
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Colorado State University.
Attentional deficits are common in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar mood disorder, and schizophrenia. There has been increasing interest in the neurodevelopmental components of these attentional deficits; neurodevelopmental meaning that while the deficits become clinically prominent in childhood or adulthood, the deficits are the results of problems in brain development that begin in infancy or even prenatally. Despite this interest, there are few methods for assessing attention very early in infancy. This report focuses on one method, infant auditory P50 sensory gating. Attention has several components. One of the earliest components of attention, termed sensory gating, allows the brain to tune out repetitive, noninformative sensory information. Auditory P50 sensory gating refers to one task designed to measure sensory gating using changes in EEG. When identical auditory stimuli are presented 500 ms apart, the evoked response (change in the EEG associated with the processing of the click) to the second stimulus is generally reduced relative to the response to the first stimulus (i.e. the response is "gated"). When response to the second stimulus is not reduced, this is considered a poor sensory gating, is reflective of impaired cerebral inhibition, and is correlated with attentional deficits. Because the auditory P50 sensory gating task is passive, it is of potential utility in the study of young infants and may provide a window into the developmental time course of attentional deficits in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders. The goal of this presentation is to describe the methodology for assessing infant auditory P50 sensory gating, a methodology adapted from those used in studies of adult populations.
Behavior, Issue 82, Child Development, Psychophysiology, Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders, Evoked Potentials, Auditory, auditory evoked potential, sensory gating, infant, attention, electrophysiology, infants, sensory gating, endophenotype, attention, P50
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Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Authors: Lindsay M. Carini, Christopher A. Murgatroyd, Benjamin C. Nephew.
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
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Probing the Brain in Autism Using fMRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Authors: Rajesh K. Kana, Donna L. Murdaugh, Lauren E. Libero, Mark R. Pennick, Heather M. Wadsworth, Rishi Deshpande, Christi P. Hu.
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Newly emerging theories suggest that the brain does not function as a cohesive unit in autism, and this discordance is reflected in the behavioral symptoms displayed by individuals with autism. While structural neuroimaging findings have provided some insights into brain abnormalities in autism, the consistency of such findings is questionable. Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, has been more fruitful in this regard because autism is a disorder of dynamic processing and allows examination of communication between cortical networks, which appears to be where the underlying problem occurs in autism. Functional connectivity is defined as the temporal correlation of spatially separate neurological events1. Findings from a number of recent fMRI studies have supported the idea that there is weaker coordination between different parts of the brain that should be working together to accomplish complex social or language problems2,3,4,5,6. One of the mysteries of autism is the coexistence of deficits in several domains along with relatively intact, sometimes enhanced, abilities. Such complex manifestation of autism calls for a global and comprehensive examination of the disorder at the neural level. A compelling recent account of the brain functioning in autism, the cortical underconnectivity theory,2,7 provides an integrating framework for the neurobiological bases of autism. The cortical underconnectivity theory of autism suggests that any language, social, or psychological function that is dependent on the integration of multiple brain regions is susceptible to disruption as the processing demand increases. In autism, the underfunctioning of integrative circuitry in the brain may cause widespread underconnectivity. In other words, people with autism may interpret information in a piecemeal fashion at the expense of the whole. Since cortical underconnectivity among brain regions, especially the frontal cortex and more posterior areas 3,6, has now been relatively well established, we can begin to further understand brain connectivity as a critical component of autism symptomatology. A logical next step in this direction is to examine the anatomical connections that may mediate the functional connections mentioned above. Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a relatively novel neuroimaging technique that helps probe the diffusion of water in the brain to infer the integrity of white matter fibers. In this technique, water diffusion in the brain is examined in several directions using diffusion gradients. While functional connectivity provides information about the synchronization of brain activation across different brain areas during a task or during rest, DTI helps in understanding the underlying axonal organization which may facilitate the cross-talk among brain areas. This paper will describe these techniques as valuable tools in understanding the brain in autism and the challenges involved in this line of research.
Medicine, Issue 55, Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Functional Connectivity, Neuroscience, Developmental disorders, Autism, Fractional Anisotropy
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Hyponeophagia: A Measure of Anxiety in the Mouse
Authors: Rob M.J. Deacon.
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Before the present day, when fast-acting and potent rodenticides such as alpha-chloralose were not yet in use, the work of pest controllers was often hampered by a phenomenon known as "bait shyness". Mice and rats cannot vomit, due to the tightness of the cardiac sphincter of the stomach, so to overcome the problem of potential food toxicity they have evolved a strategy of first ingesting only very small amounts of novel substances. The amounts ingested then gradually increase until the animal has determined whether the substance is safe and nutritious. So the old rat-catchers would first put a palatable substance such as oatmeal, which was to be the vehicle for the toxin, in the infested area. Only when large amounts were being readily consumed would they then add the poison, in amounts calculated not to affect the taste of the vehicle. The poisoned bait, which the animals were now readily eating in large amounts, would then swiftly perform its function. Bait shyness is now used in the behavioural laboratory as a way of measuring anxiety. A highly palatable but novel substance, such as sweet corn, nuts or sweetened condensed milk, is offered to the mice (or rats) in a novel situation, such as a new cage. The latency to consume a defined amount of the new food is then measured. Robert M.J. Deacon can be reach at
Neuroscience, Issue 51, Anxiety, hyponeophagia, bait shyness, mice, hippocampus, strain differences, plus-maze
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The Successive Alleys Test of Anxiety in Mice and Rats
Authors: Robert M.J. Deacon.
Institutions: University of Oxford.
The plus-maze was derived from the early work of Montgomery. He observed that rats tended to avoid the open arms of a maze, preferring the enclosed ones. Handley, Mithani and File et al. performed the first studies on the plus-maze design we use today, and in 1987 Lister published a design for use with mice. Time spent on, and entries into, the open arms are an index of anxiety; the lower these indices, the more anxious the mouse is. Alternatively, a mouse that spends most of its time in the closed arms is classed as anxious. One of the problems of the plus-maze is that, while time spent on, and entries into, the open arms is a fairly unambiguous measure of anxiety, time in the central area is more difficult to interpret, although time spent here has been classified as “decision making”. In many tests central area time is a considerable part of the total test time. Shepherd et al. produced an ingenious design to eliminate the central area, which they called the “zero maze”. However, although used by several groups, it has never been as widely adopted as the plus-maze. In the present article I describe a modification of the plus-maze design that not only eliminates the central area but also incorporates elements from other anxiety tests, such as the light-dark box and emergence tests. It is a linear series of four alleys, each having increasing anxiogenic properties. It has given similar results to the plus-maze in general. Although it may not be more sensitive than the plus-maze (more data is needed before a firm conclusion can be reached on this point), it provides a useful confirmation of plus-maze results which would be useful when, for example, only a single example of a mutant mouse was available, as, for example, in ENU-based mutagenesis programs.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Psychology, Mice, rats, anxiety-like behaviour, plus-maze, behaviour, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, medial septum, successive alleys, animal model
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