The acoustic startle response is a protective response, elicited by a sudden and intense acoustic stimulus. Facial and skeletal muscles are activated within a few milliseconds, leading to a whole body flinch in rodents1. Although startle responses are reflexive responses that can be reliably elicited, they are not stereotypic. They can be modulated by emotions such as fear (fear potentiated startle) and joy (joy attenuated startle), by non-associative learning processes such as habituation and sensitization, and by other sensory stimuli through sensory gating processes (prepulse inhibition), turning startle responses into an excellent tool for assessing emotions, learning, and sensory gating, for review see 2, 3. The primary pathway mediating startle responses is very short and well described, qualifying startle also as an excellent model for studying the underlying mechanisms for behavioural plasticity on a cellular/molecular level3.
We here describe a method for assessing short-term habituation, long-term habituation and prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle responses in rodents. Habituation describes the decrease of the startle response magnitude upon repeated presentation of the same stimulus. Habituation within a testing session is called short-term habituation (STH) and is reversible upon a period of several minutes without stimulation. Habituation between testing sessions is called long-term habituation (LTH)4. Habituation is stimulus specific5. Prepulse inhibition is the attenuation of a startle response by a preceding non-startling sensory stimulus6. The interval between prepulse and startle stimulus can vary from 6 to up to 2000 ms. The prepulse can be any modality, however, acoustic prepulses are the most commonly used.
Habituation is a form of non-associative learning. It can also be viewed as a form of sensory filtering, since it reduces the organisms' response to a non-threatening stimulus. Prepulse inhibition (PPI) was originally developed in human neuropsychiatric research as an operational measure for sensory gating7. PPI deficits may represent the interface of "psychosis and cognition" as they seem to predict cognitive impairment8-10. Both habituation and PPI are disrupted in patients suffering from schizophrenia11, and PPI disruptions have shown to be, at least in some cases, amenable to treatment with mostly atypical antipsychotics12, 13. However, other mental and neurodegenerative diseases are also accompanied by disruption in habituation and/or PPI, such as autism spectrum disorders (slower habituation), obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's Disease (PPI)11, 14, 15 Dopamine induced PPI deficits are a commonly used animal model for the screening of antipsychotic drugs16, but PPI deficits can also be induced by many other psychomimetic drugs, environmental modifications and surgical procedures.
17 Related JoVE Articles!
P50 Sensory Gating in Infants
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Colorado State University.
Attentional deficits are common in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar mood disorder, and schizophrenia. There has been increasing interest in the neurodevelopmental components of these attentional deficits; neurodevelopmental meaning that while the deficits become clinically prominent in childhood or adulthood, the deficits are the results of problems in brain development that begin in infancy or even prenatally. Despite this interest, there are few methods for assessing attention very early in infancy. This report focuses on one method, infant auditory P50 sensory gating.
Attention has several components. One of the earliest components of attention, termed sensory gating, allows the brain to tune out repetitive, noninformative sensory information. Auditory P50 sensory gating refers to one task designed to measure sensory gating using changes in EEG. When identical auditory stimuli are presented 500 ms apart, the evoked response (change in the EEG associated with the processing of the click) to the second stimulus is generally reduced relative to the response to the first stimulus (i.e.
the response is "gated"). When response to the second stimulus is not reduced, this is considered a poor sensory gating, is reflective of impaired cerebral inhibition, and is correlated with attentional deficits.
Because the auditory P50 sensory gating task is passive, it is of potential utility in the study of young infants and may provide a window into the developmental time course of attentional deficits in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders. The goal of this presentation is to describe the methodology for assessing infant auditory P50 sensory gating, a methodology adapted from those used in studies of adult populations.
Behavior, Issue 82, Child Development, Psychophysiology, Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders, Evoked Potentials, Auditory, auditory evoked potential, sensory gating, infant, attention, electrophysiology, infants, sensory gating, endophenotype, attention, P50
Irrelevant Stimuli and Action Control: Analyzing the Influence of Ignored Stimuli via the Distractor-Response Binding Paradigm
Institutions: Trier University, Trier University.
Selection tasks in which simple stimuli (e.g.
letters) are presented and a target stimulus has to be selected against one or more distractor stimuli are frequently used in the research on human action control. One important question in these settings is how distractor stimuli, competing with the target stimulus for a response, influence actions. The distractor-response binding paradigm can be used to investigate this influence. It is particular useful to separately analyze response retrieval and distractor inhibition effects. Computer-based experiments are used to collect the data (reaction times and error rates). In a number of sequentially presented pairs of stimulus arrays (prime-probe design), participants respond to targets while ignoring distractor stimuli. Importantly, the factors response relation in the arrays of each pair (repetition vs. change) and distractor relation (repetition vs. change) are varied orthogonally. The repetition of the same distractor then has a different effect depending on response relation (repetition vs. change) between arrays. This result pattern can be explained by response retrieval due to distractor repetition. In addition, distractor inhibition effects are indicated by a general advantage due to distractor repetition. The described paradigm has proven useful to determine relevant parameters for response retrieval effects on human action.
Behavior, Issue 87, stimulus-response binding, distractor-response binding, response retrieval, distractor inhibition, event file, action control, selection task
The 5-Choice Serial Reaction Time Task: A Task of Attention and Impulse Control for Rodents
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
EEG Mu Rhythm in Typical and Atypical Development
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
Making Sense of Listening: The IMAP Test Battery
Institutions: MRC Institute of Hearing Research, National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing.
The ability to hear is only the first step towards making sense of the range of information contained in an auditory signal. Of equal importance are the abilities to extract and use the information encoded in the auditory signal. We refer to these as listening skills (or auditory processing AP). Deficits in these skills are associated with delayed language and literacy development, though the nature of the relevant deficits and their causal connection with these delays is hotly debated.
When a child is referred to a health professional with normal hearing and unexplained difficulties in listening, or associated delays in language or literacy development, they should ideally be assessed with a combination of psychoacoustic (AP) tests, suitable for children and for use in a clinic, together with cognitive tests to measure attention, working memory, IQ, and language skills. Such a detailed examination needs to be relatively short and within the technical capability of any suitably qualified professional. Current tests for the presence of AP deficits tend to be poorly constructed and inadequately validated within the normal population. They have little or no reference to the presenting symptoms of the child, and typically include a linguistic component. Poor performance may thus reflect problems with language rather than with AP. To assist in the assessment of children with listening difficulties, pediatric audiologists need a single, standardized child-appropriate test battery based on the use of language-free stimuli.
We present the IMAP test battery which was developed at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to supplement tests currently used to investigate cases of suspected AP deficits. IMAP assesses a range of relevant auditory and cognitive skills and takes about one hour to complete. It has been standardized in 1500 normally-hearing children from across the UK, aged 6-11 years. Since its development, it has been successfully used in a number of large scale studies both in the UK and the USA. IMAP provides measures for separating out sensory from cognitive contributions to hearing. It further limits confounds due to procedural effects by presenting tests in a child-friendly game-format. Stimulus-generation, management of test protocols and control of test presentation is mediated by the IHR-STAR software platform. This provides a standardized methodology for a range of applications and ensures replicable procedures across testers. IHR-STAR provides a flexible, user-programmable environment that currently has additional applications for hearing screening, mapping cochlear implant electrodes, and academic research or teaching.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Listening skills, auditory processing, auditory psychophysics, clinical assessment, child-friendly testing
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Institutions: Alpert Medical School, Brown University, University of Georgia.
Complementary structural and functional neuroimaging techniques used to examine the Default Mode Network (DMN) could potentially improve assessments of psychiatric illness severity and provide added validity to the clinical diagnostic process. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that DMN processes may be disrupted in a number of stress-related psychiatric illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although specific DMN functions remain under investigation, it is generally thought to be involved in introspection and self-processing. In healthy individuals it exhibits greatest activity during periods of rest, with less activity, observed as deactivation, during cognitive tasks, e.g.
, working memory. This network consists of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, lateral parietal cortices and medial temporal regions.
Multiple functional and structural imaging approaches have been developed to study the DMN. These have unprecedented potential to further the understanding of the function and dysfunction of this network. Functional approaches, such as the evaluation of resting state connectivity and task-induced deactivation, have excellent potential to identify targeted neurocognitive and neuroaffective (functional) diagnostic markers and may indicate illness severity and prognosis with increased accuracy or specificity. Structural approaches, such as evaluation of morphometry and connectivity, may provide unique markers of etiology and long-term outcomes. Combined, functional and structural methods provide strong multimodal, complementary and synergistic approaches to develop valid DMN-based imaging phenotypes in stress-related psychiatric conditions. This protocol aims to integrate these methods to investigate DMN structure and function in PTSD, relating findings to illness severity and relevant clinical factors.
Medicine, Issue 89, default mode network, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, structural connectivity, functional connectivity, posttraumatic stress disorder
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
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
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
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
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
Utilizing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study the Human Neuromuscular System
Institutions: Ohio University.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been in use for more than 20 years 1
, and has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade. While the use of TMS has expanded to the study of many systems and processes during this time, the original application and perhaps one of the most common uses of TMS involves studying the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. Single pulse TMS applied to the motor cortex excites pyramidal neurons transsynaptically 2
(Figure 1) and results in a measurable electromyographic response that can be used to study and evaluate the integrity and excitability of the corticospinal tract in humans 3
. Additionally, recent advances in magnetic stimulation now allows for partitioning of cortical versus spinal excitability 4,5
. For example, paired-pulse TMS can be used to assess intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory properties by combining a conditioning stimulus and a test stimulus at different interstimulus intervals 3,4,6-8
. In this video article we will demonstrate the methodological and technical aspects of these techniques. Specifically, we will demonstrate single-pulse and paired-pulse TMS techniques as applied to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle as well as the erector spinae (ES) musculature. Our laboratory studies the FCR muscle as it is of interest to our research on the effects of wrist-hand cast immobilization on reduced muscle performance6,9
, and we study the ES muscles due to these muscles clinical relevance as it relates to low back pain8
. With this stated, we should note that TMS has been used to study many muscles of the hand, arm and legs, and should iterate that our demonstrations in the FCR and ES muscle groups are only selected examples of TMS being used to study the human neuromuscular system.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroscience, muscle, electromyography, physiology, TMS, strength, motor control. sarcopenia, dynapenia, lumbar
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
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
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Probing the Brain in Autism Using fMRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Newly emerging theories suggest that the brain does not function as a cohesive unit in autism, and this discordance is reflected in the behavioral symptoms displayed by individuals with autism. While structural neuroimaging findings have provided some insights into brain abnormalities in autism, the consistency of such findings is questionable. Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, has been more fruitful in this regard because autism is a disorder of dynamic processing and allows examination of communication between cortical networks, which appears to be where the underlying problem occurs in autism. Functional connectivity is defined as the temporal correlation of spatially separate neurological events1. Findings from a number of recent fMRI studies have supported the idea that there is weaker coordination between different parts of the brain that should be working together to accomplish complex social or language problems2,3,4,5,6
. One of the mysteries of autism is the coexistence of deficits in several domains along with relatively intact, sometimes enhanced, abilities. Such complex manifestation of autism calls for a global and comprehensive examination of the disorder at the neural level. A compelling recent account of the brain functioning in autism, the cortical underconnectivity theory,2,7
provides an integrating framework for the neurobiological bases of autism. The cortical underconnectivity theory of autism suggests that any language, social, or psychological function that is dependent on the integration of multiple brain regions is susceptible to disruption as the processing demand increases. In autism, the underfunctioning of integrative circuitry in the brain may cause widespread underconnectivity. In other words, people with autism may interpret information in a piecemeal fashion at the expense of the whole. Since cortical underconnectivity among brain regions, especially the frontal cortex and more posterior areas 3,6
, has now been relatively well established, we can begin to further understand brain connectivity as a critical component of autism symptomatology.
A logical next step in this direction is to examine the anatomical connections that may mediate the functional connections mentioned above. Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a relatively novel neuroimaging technique that helps probe the diffusion of water in the brain to infer the integrity of white matter fibers. In this technique, water diffusion in the brain is examined in several directions using diffusion gradients. While functional connectivity provides information about the synchronization of brain activation across different brain areas during a task or during rest, DTI helps in understanding the underlying axonal organization which may facilitate the cross-talk among brain areas. This paper will describe these techniques as valuable tools in understanding the brain in autism and the challenges involved in this line of research.
Medicine, Issue 55, Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Functional Connectivity, Neuroscience, Developmental disorders, Autism, Fractional Anisotropy
Investigating Social Cognition in Infants and Adults Using Dense Array Electroencephalography (dEEG)
Institutions: University Toronto Scarborough.
Dense array electroencephalography (d
EEG), which provides a non-invasive window for measuring brain activity and a temporal resolution unsurpassed by any other current brain imaging technology1,2
, is being used increasingly in the study of social cognitive functioning in infants and adults. While d
EEG is enabling researchers to examine brain activity patterns with unprecedented levels of sensitivity, conventional EEG recording systems continue to face certain limitations, including 1) poor spatial resolution and source localization3,4
,2) the physical discomfort for test subjects of enduring the individual application of numerous electrodes to the surface of the scalp, and 3) the complexity for researchers of learning to use multiple software packages to collect and process data. Here we present an overview of an established methodology that represents a significant improvement on conventional methodologies for studying EEG in infants and adults. Although several analytical software techniques can be used to establish indirect indices of source localization to improve the spatial resolution of d
EEG, the HydroCel Geodesic Sensor Net (HCGSN) by Electrical Geodesics, Inc. (EGI), a dense sensory array that maintains equal distances among adjacent recording electrodes on all surfaces of the scalp, further enhances spatial resolution4,5,6
compared to standard d
EEG systems. The sponge-based HCGSN can be applied rapidly and without scalp abrasion, making it ideal for use with adults7,8
, and infants12
, in both research and clinical4,5,6,13,14,15
settings. This feature allows for considerable cost and time savings by decreasing the average net application time compared to other d
EEG systems. Moreover, the HCGSN includes unified, seamless software applications for all phases of data, greatly simplifying the collection, processing, and analysis of d
The HCGSN features a low-profile electrode pedestal, which, when filled with electrolyte solution, creates a sealed microenvironment and an electrode-scalp interface. In all Geodesic d
EEG systems, EEG sensors detect changes in voltage originating from the participant's scalp, along with a small amount of electrical noise originating from the room environment. Electrical signals from all sensors of the Geodesic sensor net are received simultaneously by the amplifier, where they are automatically processed, packaged, and sent to the data-acquisition computer (DAC). Once received by the DAC, scalp electrical activity can be isolated from artifacts for analysis using the filtering and artifact detection tools included in the EGI software. Typically, the HCGSN can be used continuously for only up to two hours because the electrolyte solution dries out over time, gradually decreasing the quality of the scalp-electrode interface.
In the Parent-Infant Research Lab at the University of Toronto, we are using d
EEG to study social cognitive processes including memory, emotion, goals, intentionality, anticipation, and executive functioning in both adult and infant participants.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, Developmental Affective Neuroscience, high density EEG, social cognition, infancy, and parenting