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.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Quantitative Assessment of Cortical Auditory-tactile Processing in Children with Disabilities
Institutions: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University.
Objective and easy measurement of sensory processing is extremely difficult in nonverbal or vulnerable pediatric patients. We developed a new methodology to quantitatively assess children's cortical processing of light touch, speech sounds and the multisensory processing of the 2 stimuli, without requiring active subject participation or causing children discomfort. To accomplish this we developed a dual channel, time and strength calibrated air puff stimulator that allows both tactile stimulation and sham control. We combined this with the use of event-related potential methodology to allow for high temporal resolution of signals from the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices as well as higher order processing. This methodology also allowed us to measure a multisensory response to auditory-tactile stimulation.
Behavior, Issue 83, somatosensory, event related potential, auditory-tactile, multisensory, cortical response, child
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
A Procedure to Observe Context-induced Renewal of Pavlovian-conditioned Alcohol-seeking Behavior in Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
Environmental contexts in which drugs of abuse are consumed can trigger craving, a subjective Pavlovian-conditioned response that can facilitate drug-seeking behavior and prompt relapse in abstinent drug users. We have developed a procedure to study the behavioral and neural processes that mediate the impact of context on alcohol-seeking behavior in rats. Following acclimation to the taste and pharmacological effects of 15% ethanol in the home cage, male Long-Evans rats receive Pavlovian discrimination training (PDT) in conditioning chambers. In each daily (Mon-Fri) PDT session, 16 trials each of two different 10 sec auditory conditioned stimuli occur. During one stimulus, the CS+, 0.2 ml of 15% ethanol is delivered into a fluid port for oral consumption. The second stimulus, the CS-, is not paired with ethanol. Across sessions, entries into the fluid port during the CS+ increase, whereas entries during the CS- stabilize at a lower level, indicating that a predictive association between the CS+ and ethanol is acquired. During PDT each chamber is equipped with a specific configuration of visual, olfactory and tactile contextual stimuli. Following PDT, extinction training is conducted in the same chamber that is now equipped with a different configuration of contextual stimuli. The CS+ and CS- are presented as before, but ethanol is withheld, which causes a gradual decline in port entries during the CS+. At test, rats are placed back into the PDT context and presented with the CS+ and CS- as before, but without ethanol. This manipulation triggers a robust and selective increase in the number of port entries made during the alcohol predictive CS+, with no change in responding during the CS-. This effect, referred to as context-induced renewal, illustrates the powerful capacity of contexts associated with alcohol consumption to stimulate alcohol-seeking behavior in response to Pavlovian alcohol cues.
Behavior, Issue 91, Behavioral neuroscience, alcoholism, relapse, addiction, Pavlovian conditioning, ethanol, reinstatement, discrimination, conditioned approach
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
Recording Single Neurons' Action Potentials from Freely Moving Pigeons Across Three Stages of Learning
Institutions: Ruhr-University Bochum.
While the subject of learning has attracted immense interest from both behavioral and neural scientists, only relatively few investigators have observed single-neuron activity while animals are acquiring an operantly conditioned response, or when that response is extinguished. But even in these cases, observation periods usually encompass only a single stage of learning, i.e.
acquisition or extinction, but not both (exceptions include protocols employing reversal learning; see Bingman et al.1
for an example). However, acquisition and extinction entail different learning mechanisms and are therefore expected to be accompanied by different types and/or loci of neural plasticity.
Accordingly, we developed a behavioral paradigm which institutes three stages of learning in a single behavioral session and which is well suited for the simultaneous recording of single neurons' action potentials. Animals are trained on a single-interval forced choice task which requires mapping each of two possible choice responses to the presentation of different novel visual stimuli (acquisition). After having reached a predefined performance criterion, one of the two choice responses is no longer reinforced (extinction). Following a certain decrement in performance level, correct responses are reinforced again (reacquisition). By using a new set of stimuli in every session, animals can undergo the acquisition-extinction-reacquisition process repeatedly. Because all three stages of learning occur in a single behavioral session, the paradigm is ideal for the simultaneous observation of the spiking output of multiple single neurons. We use pigeons as model systems, but the task can easily be adapted to any other species capable of conditioned discrimination learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, pigeon, single unit recording, learning, memory, extinction, spike sorting, operant conditioning, reward, electrophysiology, animal cognition, model species
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
Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
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 http://www.mouse-phenotype.org/. 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
Development of an Audio-based Virtual Gaming Environment to Assist with Navigation Skills in the Blind
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
The Dig Task: A Simple Scent Discrimination Reveals Deficits Following Frontal Brain Damage
Institutions: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Cognitive impairment is the most frequent cause of disability in humans following brain damage, yet the behavioral tasks used to assess cognition in rodent models of brain injury is lacking. Borrowing from the operant literature our laboratory utilized a basic scent discrimination paradigm1-4
in order to assess deficits in frontally-injured rats. Previously we have briefly described the Dig task and demonstrated that rats with frontal brain damage show severe deficits across multiple tests within the task5
. Here we present a more detailed protocol for this task. Rats are placed into a chamber and allowed to discriminate between two scented sands, one of which contains a reinforcer. The trial ends after the rat either correctly discriminates (defined as digging in the correct scented sand), incorrectly discriminates, or 30 sec elapses. Rats that correctly discriminate are allowed to recover and consume the reinforcer. Rats that discriminate incorrectly are immediately removed from the chamber. This can continue through a variety of reversals and novel scents. The primary analysis is the accuracy for each scent pairing (cumulative proportion correct for each scent). The general findings from the Dig task suggest that it is a simple experimental preparation that can assess deficits in rats with bilateral frontal cortical damage compared to rats with unilateral parietal damage. The Dig task can also be easily incorporated into an existing cognitive test battery. The use of more tasks such as this one can lead to more accurate testing of frontal function following injury, which may lead to therapeutic options for treatment. All animal use was conducted in accordance with protocols approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Medicine, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Behavior, cognitive assessment, dig task, scent discrimination, olfactory, brain injury, traumatic brain injury, TBI, brain damage, rats, animal model
A Lightweight, Headphones-based System for Manipulating Auditory Feedback in Songbirds
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University, Emory University.
Experimental manipulations of sensory feedback during complex behavior have provided valuable insights into the computations underlying motor control and sensorimotor plasticity1
. Consistent sensory perturbations result in compensatory changes in motor output, reflecting changes in feedforward motor control that reduce the experienced feedback error. By quantifying how different sensory feedback errors affect human behavior, prior studies have explored how visual signals are used to recalibrate arm movements2,3
and auditory feedback is used to modify speech production4-7
. The strength of this approach rests on the ability to mimic naturalistic errors in behavior, allowing the experimenter to observe how experienced errors in production are used to recalibrate motor output.
Songbirds provide an excellent animal model for investigating the neural basis of sensorimotor control and plasticity8,9
. The songbird brain provides a well-defined circuit in which the areas necessary for song learning are spatially separated from those required for song production, and neural recording and lesion studies have made significant advances in understanding how different brain areas contribute to vocal behavior9-12
. However, the lack of a naturalistic error-correction paradigm - in which a known acoustic parameter is perturbed by the experimenter and then corrected by the songbird - has made it difficult to understand the computations underlying vocal learning or how different elements of the neural circuit contribute to the correction of vocal errors13
The technique described here gives the experimenter precise control over auditory feedback errors in singing birds, allowing the introduction of arbitrary sensory errors that can be used to drive vocal learning. Online sound-processing equipment is used to introduce a known perturbation to the acoustics of song, and a miniaturized headphones apparatus is used to replace a songbird's natural auditory feedback with the perturbed signal in real time. We have used this paradigm to perturb the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in adult songbirds, providing the first demonstration that adult birds maintain vocal performance using error correction14
. The present protocol can be used to implement a wide range of sensory feedback perturbations (including but not limited to pitch shifts) to investigate the computational and neurophysiological basis of vocal learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Anatomy, Physiology, Zoology, Behavior, Songbird, psychophysics, auditory feedback, biology, sensorimotor learning
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
In vitro Transcription and Capping of Gaussia Luciferase mRNA Followed by HeLa Cell Transfection
Institutions: New England Biolabs.
transcription is the synthesis of RNA transcripts by RNA polymerase from a linear DNA template containing the corresponding promoter sequence (T7, T3, SP6) and the gene to be transcribed (Figure 1A
). A typical transcription reaction consists of the template DNA, RNA polymerase, ribonucleotide triphosphates, RNase inhibitor and buffer containing Mg2+
Large amounts of high quality RNA are often required for a variety of applications. Use of in vitro
transcription has been reported for RNA structure and function studies such as splicing1
, RNAi experiments in mammalian cells2
, antisense RNA amplification by the "Eberwine method"3
, microarray analysis4
and for RNA vaccine studies5
. The technique can also be used for producing radiolabeled and dye labeled probes6
. Warren, et al.
recently reported reprogramming of human cells by transfection with in vitro
transcribed capped RNA7
. The T7 High Yield RNA Synthesis Kit from New England Biolabs has been designed to synthesize up to 180 μg RNA per 20 μl reaction. RNA of length up to 10kb has been successfully transcribed using this kit. Linearized plasmid DNA, PCR products and synthetic DNA oligonucleotides can be used as templates for transcription as long as they have the T7 promoter sequence upstream of the gene to be transcribed.
Addition of a 5' end cap structure to the RNA is an important process in eukaryotes. It is essential for RNA stability8
, efficient translation9
, nuclear transport10
. The process involves addition of a 7-methylguanosine cap at the 5' triphosphate end of the RNA. RNA capping can be carried out post-transcriptionally using capping enzymes or co-transcriptionally using cap analogs. In the enzymatic method, the mRNA is capped using the Vaccinia
virus capping enzyme12,13
. The enzyme adds on a 7-methylguanosine cap at the 5' end of the RNA using GTP and S-adenosyl methionine as donors (cap 0 structure). Both methods yield functionally active capped RNA suitable for transfection or other applications14
such as generating viral genomic RNA for reverse-genetic systems15
and crystallographic studies of cap binding proteins such as eIF4E16
In the method described below, the T7 High Yield RNA Synthesis Kit from NEB is used to synthesize capped and uncapped RNA transcripts of Gaussia
luciferase (GLuc) and Cypridina
luciferase (CLuc). A portion of the uncapped GLuc RNA is capped using the Vaccinia Capping System (NEB). A linearized plasmid containing the GLuc or CLuc gene and T7 promoter is used as the template DNA. The transcribed RNA is transfected into HeLa cells and cell culture supernatants are assayed for luciferase activity. Capped CLuc RNA is used as the internal control to normalize GLuc expression.
Genetics, Issue 61, In vitro transcription, Vaccinia capping enzyme, transfection, T7 RNA Polymerase, RNA synthesis
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
Assaying Locomotor, Learning, and Memory Deficits in Drosophila Models of Neurodegeneration
Institutions: University of Miami, Miller School of Medicine.
Advances in genetic methods have enabled the study of genes involved in human neurodegenerative diseases using Drosophila
as a model system1
. Most of these diseases, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's disease are characterized by age-dependent deterioration in learning and memory functions and movement coordination2
. Here we use behavioral assays, including the negative geotaxis assay3
and the aversive phototaxic suppression assay (APS assay)4,5
, to show that some of the behavior characteristics associated with human neurodegeneration can be recapitulated in flies. In the negative geotaxis assay, the natural tendency of flies to move against gravity when agitated is utilized to study genes or conditions that may hinder locomotor capacities. In the APS assay, the learning and memory functions are tested in positively-phototactic flies trained to associate light with aversive bitter taste and hence avoid this otherwise natural tendency to move toward light. Testing these trained flies 6 hours post-training is used to assess memory functions. Using these assays, the contribution of any genetic or environmental factors toward developing neurodegeneration can be easily studied in flies.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Geotaxis, phototaxis, behavior, Tau
Morris Water Maze Experiment
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU).
The Morris water maze is widely used to study spatial memory and learning. Animals are placed in a pool of water that is colored opaque with powdered non-fat milk or non-toxic tempera paint, where they must swim to a hidden escape platform. Because they are in opaque water, the animals cannot see the platform, and cannot rely on scent to find the escape route. Instead, they must rely on external/extra-maze cues. As the animals become more familiar with the task, they are able to find the platform more quickly. Developed by Richard G. Morris in 1984, this paradigm has become one of the "gold standards" of behavioral neuroscience.
Behavior, Issue 19, Declarative, Hippocampus, Memory, Procedural, Rodent, Spatial Learning
Cross-Modal Multivariate Pattern Analysis
Institutions: University of Southern California.
Multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA) is an increasingly popular method of analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data1-4
. Typically, the method is used to identify a subject's perceptual experience from neural activity in certain regions of the brain. For instance, it has been employed to predict the orientation of visual gratings a subject perceives from activity in early visual cortices5
or, analogously, the content of speech from activity in early auditory cortices6
Here, we present an extension of the classical MVPA paradigm, according to which perceptual stimuli are not predicted within, but across sensory systems. Specifically, the method we describe addresses the question of whether stimuli that evoke memory associations in modalities other than the one through which they are presented induce content-specific activity patterns in the sensory cortices of those other modalities. For instance, seeing a muted video clip of a glass vase shattering on the ground automatically triggers in most observers an auditory image of the associated sound; is the experience of this image in the "mind's ear" correlated with a specific neural activity pattern in early auditory cortices? Furthermore, is this activity pattern distinct from the pattern that could be observed if the subject were, instead, watching a video clip of a howling dog?
In two previous studies7,8
, we were able to predict sound- and touch-implying video clips based on neural activity in early auditory and somatosensory cortices, respectively. Our results are in line with a neuroarchitectural framework proposed by Damasio9,10
, according to which the experience of mental images that are based on memories - such as hearing the shattering sound of a vase in the "mind's ear" upon seeing the corresponding video clip - is supported by the re-construction of content-specific neural activity patterns in early sensory cortices.
Neuroscience, Issue 57, perception, sensory, cross-modal, top-down, mental imagery, fMRI, MRI, neuroimaging, multivariate pattern analysis, MVPA
A Fully Automated and Highly Versatile System for Testing Multi-cognitive Functions and Recording Neuronal Activities in Rodents
Institutions: The Neurosciences Institute, San Diego, CA.
We have developed a fully automated system for operant behavior testing and neuronal activity recording by which multiple cognitive brain functions can be investigated in a single task sequence. The unique feature of this system is a custom-made, acoustically transparent chamber that eliminates many of the issues associated with auditory cue control in most commercially available chambers. The ease with which operant devices can be added or replaced makes this system quite versatile, allowing for the implementation of a variety of auditory, visual, and olfactory behavioral tasks. Automation of the system allows fine temporal (10 ms) control and precise time-stamping of each event in a predesigned behavioral sequence. When combined with a multi-channel electrophysiology recording system, multiple cognitive brain functions, such as motivation, attention, decision-making, patience, and rewards, can be examined sequentially or independently.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, auditory behavioral task, acoustic chamber, cognition test, multi-channel recording, electrophysiology, attention, motivation, decision, patience, rat, two-alternative choice pitch discrimination task, behavior
Operant Learning of Drosophila at the Torque Meter
Institutions: Free University of Berlin.
For experiments at the torque meter, flies are kept on standard fly medium at 25°C and 60% humidity with a 12hr light/12hr dark regime. A standardized breeding regime assures proper larval density and age-matched cohorts. Cold-anesthetized flies are glued with head and thorax to a triangle-shaped hook the day before the experiment. Attached to the torque meter via a clamp, the fly's intended flight maneuvers are measured as the angular momentum around its vertical body axis. The fly is placed in the center of a cylindrical panorama to accomplish stationary flight. An analog to digital converter card feeds the yaw torque signal into a computer which stores the trace for later analysis. The computer also controls a variety of stimuli which can be brought under the fly's control by closing the feedback loop between these stimuli and the yaw torque trace. Punishment is achieved by applying heat from an adjustable infrared laser.
Neuroscience, Issue 16, operant, learning, Drosophila, fruit fly, insect, invertebrate, neuroscience, neurobiology, fly, conditioning