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Understanding and imitating unfamiliar actions: distinct underlying mechanisms.
The human "mirror neuron system" has been proposed to be the neural substrate that underlies understanding and, possibly, imitating actions. However, since the brain activity with mirror properties seems insufficient to provide a good description for imitation of actions outside ones own repertoire, the existence of supplementary processes has been proposed. Moreover, it is unclear whether action observation requires the same neural mechanisms as the explicit access to their meaning. The aim of this study was two-fold as we investigated whether action observation requires different processes depending on 1) whether the ultimate goal is to imitate or understand the presented actions and 2) whether the to-be-imitated actions are familiar or unfamiliar to the subject. Participants were presented with both meaningful familiar actions and meaningless unfamiliar actions that they had to either imitate or discriminate later. Event-related Potentials were used as differences in brain activity could have been masked by the use of other techniques with lower temporal resolution. In the imitation task, a sustained left frontal negativity was more pronounced for meaningless actions than for meaningful ones, starting from an early time-window. Conversely, observing unfamiliar versus familiar actions with the intention of discriminating them led to marked differences over right centro-posterior scalp regions, in both middle and latest time-windows. These findings suggest that action imitation and action understanding may be sustained by dissociable mechanisms: while imitation of unfamiliar actions activates left frontal processes, that are likely to be related to learning mechanisms, action understanding involves dedicated operations which probably require right posterior regions, consistent with their involvement in social interactions.
Authors: Raphael Bernier, Benjamin Aaronson, Anna Kresse.
Published: 04-09-2014
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. 
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Corticospinal Excitability Modulation During Action Observation
Authors: Luisa Sartori, Sonia Betti, Umberto Castiello.
Institutions: Universita degli Studi di Padova.
This study used the transcranial magnetic stimulation/motor evoked potential (TMS/MEP) technique to pinpoint when the automatic tendency to mirror someone else's action becomes anticipatory simulation of a complementary act. TMS was delivered to the left primary motor cortex corresponding to the hand to induce the highest level of MEP activity from the abductor digiti minimi (ADM; the muscle serving little finger abduction) as well as the first dorsal interosseus (FDI; the muscle serving index finger flexion/extension) muscles. A neuronavigation system was used to maintain the position of the TMS coil, and electromyographic (EMG) activity was recorded from the right ADM and FDI muscles. Producing original data with regard to motor resonance, the combined TMS/MEP technique has taken research on the perception-action coupling mechanism a step further. Specifically, it has answered the questions of how and when observing another person's actions produces motor facilitation in an onlooker's corresponding muscles and in what way corticospinal excitability is modulated in social contexts.
Behavior, Issue 82, action observation, transcranial magnetic stimulation, motor evoked potentials, corticospinal excitability
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Peering into the Dynamics of Social Interactions: Measuring Play Fighting in Rats
Authors: Brett T. Himmler, Vivien C. Pellis, Sergio M. Pellis.
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content of play following an experimental treatment.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Neurobiology, Behavior, Psychology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Play behavior, play, fighting, wrestling, grooming, allogrooming, social interaction, rat, behavioral analysis, animal model
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
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A Fully Automated Rodent Conditioning Protocol for Sensorimotor Integration and Cognitive Control Experiments
Authors: Ali Mohebi, Karim G. Oweiss.
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
Rodents have been traditionally used as a standard animal model in laboratory experiments involving a myriad of sensory, cognitive, and motor tasks. Higher cognitive functions that require precise control over sensorimotor responses such as decision-making and attentional modulation, however, are typically assessed in nonhuman primates. Despite the richness of primate behavior that allows multiple variants of these functions to be studied, the rodent model remains an attractive, cost-effective alternative to primate models. Furthermore, the ability to fully automate operant conditioning in rodents adds unique advantages over the labor intensive training of nonhuman primates while studying a broad range of these complex functions. Here, we introduce a protocol for operantly conditioning rats on performing working memory tasks. During critical epochs of the task, the protocol ensures that the animal's overt movement is minimized by requiring the animal to 'fixate' until a Go cue is delivered, akin to nonhuman primate experimental design. A simple two alternative forced choice task is implemented to demonstrate the performance. We discuss the application of this paradigm to other tasks.
Behavior, Issue 86, operant conditioning, cognitive function, sensorimotor integration, decision making, Neurophysiology
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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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Methods to Explore the Influence of Top-down Visual Processes on Motor Behavior
Authors: Jillian Nguyen, Thomas V. Papathomas, Jay H. Ravaliya, Elizabeth B. Torres.
Institutions: Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Kinesthetic awareness is important to successfully navigate the environment. When we interact with our daily surroundings, some aspects of movement are deliberately planned, while others spontaneously occur below conscious awareness. The deliberate component of this dichotomy has been studied extensively in several contexts, while the spontaneous component remains largely under-explored. Moreover, how perceptual processes modulate these movement classes is still unclear. In particular, a currently debated issue is whether the visuomotor system is governed by the spatial percept produced by a visual illusion or whether it is not affected by the illusion and is governed instead by the veridical percept. Bistable percepts such as 3D depth inversion illusions (DIIs) provide an excellent context to study such interactions and balance, particularly when used in combination with reach-to-grasp movements. In this study, a methodology is developed that uses a DII to clarify the role of top-down processes on motor action, particularly exploring how reaches toward a target on a DII are affected in both deliberate and spontaneous movement domains.
Behavior, Issue 86, vision for action, vision for perception, motor control, reach, grasp, visuomotor, ventral stream, dorsal stream, illusion, space perception, depth inversion
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Irrelevant Stimuli and Action Control: Analyzing the Influence of Ignored Stimuli via the Distractor-Response Binding Paradigm
Authors: Birte Moeller, Hartmut Schächinger, Christian Frings.
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
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
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 
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Investigating the Effects of Antipsychotics and Schizotypy on the N400 Using Event-Related Potentials and Semantic Categorization
Authors: Vivian Gu, Ola Mohamed Ali, Katherine L'Abbée Lacas, J. Bruno Debruille.
Institutions: McGill University, McGill University, McGill University, McGill University.
Within the field of cognitive neuroscience, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a popular method of visualizing brain function. This is in part because of its excellent spatial resolution, which allows researchers to identify brain areas associated with specific cognitive processes. However, in the quest to localize brain functions, it is relevant to note that many cognitive, sensory, and motor processes have temporal distinctions that are imperative to capture, an aspect that is left unfulfilled by fMRI’s suboptimal temporal resolution. To better understand cognitive processes, it is thus advantageous to utilize event-related potential (ERP) recording as a method of gathering information about the brain. Some of its advantages include its fantastic temporal resolution, which gives researchers the ability to follow the activity of the brain down to the millisecond. It also directly indexes both excitatory and inhibitory post-synaptic potentials by which most brain computations are performed. This sits in contrast to fMRI, which captures an index of metabolic activity. Further, the non-invasive ERP method does not require a contrast condition: raw ERPs can be examined for just one experimental condition, a distinction from fMRI where control conditions must be subtracted from the experimental condition, leading to uncertainty in associating observations with experimental or contrast conditions. While it is limited by its poor spatial and subcortical activity resolution, ERP recordings’ utility, relative cost-effectiveness, and associated advantages offer strong rationale for its use in cognitive neuroscience to track rapid temporal changes in neural activity. In an effort to foster increase in its use as a research imaging method, and to ensure proper and accurate data collection, the present article will outline – in the framework of a paradigm using semantic categorization to examine the effects of antipsychotics and schizotypy on the N400 – the procedure and key aspects associated with ERP data acquisition.
Behavior, Issue 93, Electrical brain activity, Semantic categorization, Event-related brain potentials, Neuroscience, Cognition, Psychiatry, Antipsychotic medication, N400, Schizotypy, Schizophrenia.
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Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Authors: Gary E. Raney, Spencer J. Campbell, Joanna C. Bovee.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
The present article describes how to use eye tracking methodologies to study the cognitive processes involved in text comprehension. Measuring eye movements during reading is one of the most precise methods for measuring moment-by-moment (online) processing demands during text comprehension. Cognitive processing demands are reflected by several aspects of eye movement behavior, such as fixation duration, number of fixations, and number of regressions (returning to prior parts of a text). Important properties of eye tracking equipment that researchers need to consider are described, including how frequently the eye position is measured (sampling rate), accuracy of determining eye position, how much head movement is allowed, and ease of use. Also described are properties of stimuli that influence eye movements that need to be controlled in studies of text comprehension, such as the position, frequency, and length of target words. Procedural recommendations related to preparing the participant, setting up and calibrating the equipment, and running a study are given. Representative results are presented to illustrate how data can be evaluated. Although the methodology is described in terms of reading comprehension, much of the information presented can be applied to any study in which participants read verbal stimuli.
Behavior, Issue 83, Eye movements, Eye tracking, Text comprehension, Reading, Cognition
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Isolation of Microvascular Endothelial Tubes from Mouse Resistance Arteries
Authors: Matthew J. Socha, Steven S. Segal.
Institutions: University of Missouri, Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center.
The control of blood flow by the resistance vasculature regulates the supply of oxygen and nutrients concomitant with the removal of metabolic by-products, as exemplified by exercising skeletal muscle. Endothelial cells (ECs) line the intima of all resistance vessels and serve a key role in controlling diameter (e.g. endothelium-dependent vasodilation) and, thereby, the magnitude and distribution of tissue blood flow. The regulation of vascular resistance by ECs is effected by intracellular Ca2+ signaling, which leads to production of diffusible autacoids (e.g. nitric oxide and arachidonic acid metabolites)1-3 and hyperpolarization4,5 that elicit smooth muscle cell relaxation. Thus understanding the dynamics of endothelial Ca2+ signaling is a key step towards understanding mechanisms governing blood flow control. Isolating endothelial tubes eliminates confounding variables associated with blood in the vessel lumen and with surrounding smooth muscle cells and perivascular nerves, which otherwise influence EC structure and function. Here we present the isolation of endothelial tubes from the superior epigastric artery (SEA) using a protocol optimized for this vessel. To isolate endothelial tubes from an anesthetized mouse, the SEA is ligated in situ to maintain blood within the vessel lumen (to facilitate visualizing it during dissection), and the entire sheet of abdominal muscle is excised. The SEA is dissected free from surrounding skeletal muscle fibers and connective tissue, blood is flushed from the lumen, and mild enzymatic digestion is performed to enable removal of adventitia, nerves and smooth muscle cells using gentle trituration. These freshly-isolated preparations of intact endothelium retain their native morphology, with individual ECs remaining functionally coupled to one another, able to transfer chemical and electrical signals intercellularly through gap junctions6,7. In addition to providing new insight into calcium signaling and membrane biophysics, these preparations enable molecular studies of gene expression and protein localization within native microvascular endothelium.
Basic Protocol, Issue 81, endothelial tubes, microcirculation, calcium signaling, resistance vasculature, Confocal microscopy
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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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Examining the Characteristics of Episodic Memory using Event-related Potentials in Patients with Alzheimer's Disease
Authors: Erin Hussey, Brandon Ally.
Institutions: Vanderbilt University.
Our laboratory uses event-related EEG potentials (ERPs) to understand and support behavioral investigations of episodic memory in patients with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI) and Alzheimer's disease (AD). Whereas behavioral data inform us about the patients' performance, ERPs allow us to record discrete changes in brain activity. Further, ERPs can give us insight into the onset, duration, and interaction of independent cognitive processes associated with memory retrieval. In patient populations, these types of studies are used to examine which aspects of memory are impaired and which remain relatively intact compared to a control population. The methodology for collecting ERP data from a vulnerable patient population while these participants perform a recognition memory task is reviewed. This protocol includes participant preparation, quality assurance, data acquisition, and data analysis. In addition to basic setup and acquisition, we will also demonstrate localization techniques to obtain greater spatial resolution and source localization using high-density (128 channel) electrode arrays.
Medicine, Issue 54, recognition memory, episodic memory, event-related potentials, dual process, Alzheimer's disease, amnestic mild cognitive impairment
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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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Correlating Behavioral Responses to fMRI Signals from Human Prefrontal Cortex: Examining Cognitive Processes Using Task Analysis
Authors: Joseph F.X. DeSouza, Shima Ovaysikia, Laura K. Pynn.
Institutions: Centre for Vision Research, York University, Centre for Vision Research, York University.
The aim of this methods paper is to describe how to implement a neuroimaging technique to examine complementary brain processes engaged by two similar tasks. Participants' behavior during task performance in an fMRI scanner can then be correlated to the brain activity using the blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal. We measure behavior to be able to sort correct trials, where the subject performed the task correctly and then be able to examine the brain signals related to correct performance. Conversely, if subjects do not perform the task correctly, and these trials are included in the same analysis with the correct trials we would introduce trials that were not only for correct performance. Thus, in many cases these errors can be used themselves to then correlate brain activity to them. We describe two complementary tasks that are used in our lab to examine the brain during suppression of an automatic responses: the stroop1 and anti-saccade tasks. The emotional stroop paradigm instructs participants to either report the superimposed emotional 'word' across the affective faces or the facial 'expressions' of the face stimuli1,2. When the word and the facial expression refer to different emotions, a conflict between what must be said and what is automatically read occurs. The participant has to resolve the conflict between two simultaneously competing processes of word reading and facial expression. Our urge to read out a word leads to strong 'stimulus-response (SR)' associations; hence inhibiting these strong SR's is difficult and participants are prone to making errors. Overcoming this conflict and directing attention away from the face or the word requires the subject to inhibit bottom up processes which typically directs attention to the more salient stimulus. Similarly, in the anti-saccade task3,4,5,6, where an instruction cue is used to direct only attention to a peripheral stimulus location but then the eye movement is made to the mirror opposite position. Yet again we measure behavior by recording the eye movements of participants which allows for the sorting of the behavioral responses into correct and error trials7 which then can be correlated to brain activity. Neuroimaging now allows researchers to measure different behaviors of correct and error trials that are indicative of different cognitive processes and pinpoint the different neural networks involved.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, fMRI, eyetracking, BOLD, attention, inhibition, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2 proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness (DHL) (Figure 1). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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Development of an Audio-based Virtual Gaming Environment to Assist with Navigation Skills in the Blind
Authors: Erin C. Connors, Lindsay A. Yazzolino, Jaime Sánchez, Lotfi B. Merabet.
Institutions: Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, University of Chile .
Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
Medicine, Issue 73, Behavior, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurobiology, Ophthalmology, Psychology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Technology, Industry, virtual environments, action video games, blind, audio, rehabilitation, indoor navigation, spatial cognitive map, Audio-based Environment Simulator, virtual reality, cognitive psychology, clinical techniques
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An In-vitro Preparation of Isolated Enteric Neurons and Glia from the Myenteric Plexus of the Adult Mouse
Authors: Tricia H. Smith, Joy Ngwainmbi, John R. Grider, William L. Dewey, Hamid I. Akbarali.
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University.
The enteric nervous system is a vast network of neurons and glia running the length of the gastrointestinal tract that functionally controls gastrointestinal motility. A procedure for the isolation and culture of a mixed population of neurons and glia from the myenteric plexus is described. The primary cultures can be maintained for over 7 days, with connections developing among the neurons and glia. The longitudinal muscle strip with the attached myenteric plexus is stripped from the underlying circular muscle of the mouse ileum or colon and subjected to enzymatic digestion. In sterile conditions, the isolated neuronal and glia population are preserved within the pellet following centrifugation and plated on coverslips. Within 24-48 hr, neurite outgrowth occurs and neurons can be identified by pan-neuronal markers. After two days in culture, isolated neurons fire action potentials as observed by patch clamp studies. Furthermore, enteric glia can also be identified by GFAP staining. A network of neurons and glia in close apposition forms within 5 - 7 days. Enteric neurons can be individually and directly studied using methods such as immunohistochemistry, electrophysiology, calcium imaging, and single-cell PCR. Furthermore, this procedure can be performed in genetically modified animals. This methodology is simple to perform and inexpensive. Overall, this protocol exposes the components of the enteric nervous system in an easily manipulated manner so that we may better discover the functionality of the ENS in normal and disease states.
Neurobiology, Issue 78, Neuroscience, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biophysics, Pharmacology, Myenteric Plexus, Digestive System, Neurosciences, Enteric nervous system, culture, mouse, patch clamp, action potential, gastrointestinal neuropathies, neurons, glia, tissue, cell culture, animal model
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Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Authors: Keen Sung, Sanda Dolcos, Sophie Flor-Henry, Crystal Zhou, Claudia Gasior, Jennifer Argo, Florin Dolcos.
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1. These "friend or foe" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
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Investigating Social Cognition in Infants and Adults Using Dense Array Electroencephalography (dEEG)
Authors: Adekemi J. Akano, David W. Haley, Joanna Dudek.
Institutions: University Toronto Scarborough.
Dense array electroencephalography (dEEG), 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 dEEG 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 dEEG, 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 dEEG systems. The sponge-based HCGSN can be applied rapidly and without scalp abrasion, making it ideal for use with adults7,8, children9,10,11, 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 dEEG systems. Moreover, the HCGSN includes unified, seamless software applications for all phases of data, greatly simplifying the collection, processing, and analysis of dEEG data. 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 dEEG 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 dEEG 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
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JoVE Visualize is a tool created to match the last 5 years of PubMed publications to methods in JoVE's video library.

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In developing our video relationships, we compare around 5 million PubMed articles to our library of over 4,500 methods videos. In some cases the language used in the PubMed abstracts makes matching that content to a JoVE video difficult. In other cases, there happens not to be any content in our video library that is relevant to the topic of a given abstract. In these cases, our algorithms are trying their best to display videos with relevant content, which can sometimes result in matched videos with only a slight relation.