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.
18 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Measuring the Subjective Value of Risky and Ambiguous Options using Experimental Economics and Functional MRI Methods
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New York University , New York University , New York University .
Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity1,2
, the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value
of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method3
to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options4
. This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations.
In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, decision-making, value, uncertainty, risk, ambiguity
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
Transferring Cognitive Tasks Between Brain Imaging Modalities: Implications for Task Design and Results Interpretation in fMRI Studies
Institutions: Research Centre Jülich GmbH, Research Centre Jülich GmbH.
As cognitive neuroscience methods develop, established experimental tasks are used with emerging brain imaging modalities. Here transferring a paradigm (the visual oddball task) with a long history of behavioral and electroencephalography (EEG) experiments to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment is considered. The aims of this paper are to briefly describe fMRI and when its use is appropriate in cognitive neuroscience; illustrate how task design can influence the results of an fMRI experiment, particularly when that task is borrowed from another imaging modality; explain the practical aspects of performing an fMRI experiment. It is demonstrated that manipulating the task demands in the visual oddball task results in different patterns of blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) activation. The nature of the fMRI BOLD measure means that many brain regions are found to be active in a particular task. Determining the functions of these areas of activation is very much dependent on task design and analysis. The complex nature of many fMRI tasks means that the details of the task and its requirements need careful consideration when interpreting data. The data show that this is particularly important in those tasks relying on a motor response as well as cognitive elements and that covert and
overt responses should be considered where possible. Furthermore, the data show that transferring an EEG paradigm to an fMRI experiment needs careful consideration and it cannot be assumed that the same paradigm will work equally well across imaging modalities. It is therefore recommended that the design of an fMRI study is pilot tested behaviorally to establish the effects of interest and then pilot tested in the fMRI environment to ensure appropriate design, implementation and analysis for the effects of interest.
Behavior, Issue 91, fMRI, task design, data interpretation, cognitive neuroscience, visual oddball task, target detection
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
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
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
Automated Visual Cognitive Tasks for Recording Neural Activity Using a Floor Projection Maze
Institutions: Brown University, Brown University.
Neuropsychological tasks used in primates to investigate mechanisms of learning and memory are typically visually guided cognitive tasks. We have developed visual cognitive tasks for rats using the Floor Projection Maze1,2
that are optimized for visual abilities of rats permitting stronger comparisons of experimental findings with other species.
In order to investigate neural correlates of learning and memory, we have integrated electrophysiological recordings into fully automated cognitive tasks on the Floor Projection Maze1,2
. Behavioral software interfaced with an animal tracking system allows monitoring of the animal's behavior with precise control of image presentation and reward contingencies for better trained animals. Integration with an in vivo
electrophysiological recording system enables examination of behavioral correlates of neural activity at selected epochs of a given cognitive task.
We describe protocols for a model system that combines automated visual presentation of information to rodents and intracranial reward with electrophysiological approaches. Our model system offers a sophisticated set of tools as a framework for other cognitive tasks to better isolate and identify specific mechanisms contributing to particular cognitive processes.
Neurobiology, Issue 84, Rat behavioral tasks, visual discrimination, chronic electrophysiological recordings, Floor Projection Maze, neuropsychology, learning, memory
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
Studying Food Reward and Motivation in Humans
Institutions: University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital.
A key challenge in studying reward processing in humans is to go beyond subjective self-report measures and quantify different aspects of reward such as hedonics, motivation, and goal value in more objective ways. This is particularly relevant for the understanding of overeating and obesity as well as their potential treatments. In this paper are described a set of measures of food-related motivation using handgrip force as a motivational measure. These methods can be used to examine changes in food related motivation with metabolic (satiety) and pharmacological manipulations and can be used to evaluate interventions targeted at overeating and obesity. However to understand food-related decision making in the complex food environment it is essential to be able to ascertain the reward goal values that guide the decisions and behavioral choices that people make. These values are hidden but it is possible to ascertain them more objectively using metrics such as the willingness to pay and a method for this is described. Both these sets of methods provide quantitative measures of motivation and goal value that can be compared within and between individuals.
Behavior, Issue 85, Food reward, motivation, grip force, willingness to pay, subliminal motivation
A Dual Task Procedure Combined with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to Test Attentional Blink for Nontargets
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
When viewers search for targets in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream, if two targets are presented within about 500 msec of each other, the first target may be easy to spot but the second is likely to be missed. This phenomenon of attentional blink (AB) has been widely studied to probe the temporal capacity of attention for detecting visual targets. However, with the typical procedure of AB experiments, it is not possible to examine how the processing of non-target items in RSVP may be affected by attention. This paper describes a novel dual task procedure combined with RSVP to test effects of AB for nontargets at varied stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). In an exemplar experiment, a target category was first displayed, followed by a sequence of 8 nouns. If one of the nouns belonged to the target category, participants would respond ‘yes’ at the end of the sequence, otherwise participants would respond ‘no’. Two 2-alternative forced choice memory tasks followed the response to determine if participants remembered the words immediately before or after the target, as well as a random word from another part of the sequence. In a second exemplar experiment, the same design was used, except that 1) the memory task was counterbalanced into two groups with SOAs of either 120 or 240 msec and 2) three memory tasks followed the sequence and tested remembrance for nontarget nouns in the sequence that could be anywhere from 3 items prior the target noun position to 3 items following the target noun position. Representative results from a previously published study demonstrate that our procedure can be used to examine divergent effects of attention that not only enhance targets but also suppress nontargets. Here we show results from a representative participant that replicated the previous finding.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dual task, attentional blink, RSVP, target detection, recognition, visual psychophysics
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
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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 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
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
Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1
and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2
. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4
. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior.
We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers.
The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making
Functional Imaging with Reinforcement, Eyetracking, and Physiological Monitoring
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University, Columbia University.
We use functional brain imaging (fMRI) to study neural circuits that underlie decision-making. To understand how outcomes affect decision processes, simple perceptual tasks are combined with appetitive and aversive reinforcement. However, the use of reinforcers such as juice and airpuffs can create challenges for fMRI. Reinforcer delivery can cause head movement, which creates artifacts in the fMRI signal. Reinforcement can also lead to changes in heart rate and respiration that are mediated by autonomic pathways. Changes in heart rate and respiration can directly affect the fMRI (BOLD) signal in the brain and can be confounded with signal changes that are due to neural activity. In this presentation, we demonstrate methods for administering reinforcers in a controlled manner, for stabilizing the head, and for measuring pulse and respiration.
Medicine, Issue 21, Neuroscience, Psychiatry, fMRI, Decision Making, Reward, Punishment, Pulse, Respiration, Eye Tracking, Psychology