Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g., snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g., flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
14 Related JoVE Articles!
Cerenkov Luminescence Imaging of Interscapular Brown Adipose Tissue
Institutions: Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, China Pharmaceutical University, Perkin Elmer.
Brown adipose tissue (BAT), widely known as a “good fat” plays pivotal roles for thermogenesis in mammals. This special tissue is closely related to metabolism and energy expenditure, and its dysfunction is one important contributor for obesity and diabetes. Contrary to previous belief, recent PET/CT imaging studies indicated the BAT depots are still present in human adults. PET imaging clearly shows that BAT has considerably high uptake of 18
F-FDG under certain conditions. In this video report, we demonstrate that Cerenkov luminescence imaging (CLI) with 18
F-FDG can be used to optically image BAT in small animals. BAT activation is observed after intraperitoneal injection of norepinephrine (NE) and cold treatment, and depression of BAT is induced by long anesthesia. Using multiple-filter Cerenkov luminescence imaging, spectral unmixing and 3D imaging reconstruction are demonstrated. Our results suggest that CLI with 18
F-FDG is a practical technique for imaging BAT in small animals, and this technique can be used as a cheap, fast, and alternative imaging tool for BAT research.
Medicine, Issue 92, Cerenkov luminescence imaging, brown adipose tissue, 18F-FDG, optical imaging, in vivo imaging, spectral unmixing
Extraction of Venom and Venom Gland Microdissections from Spiders for Proteomic and Transcriptomic Analyses
Institutions: University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Venoms are chemically complex secretions typically comprising numerous proteins and peptides with varied physiological activities. Functional characterization of venom proteins has important biomedical applications, including the identification of drug leads or probes for cellular receptors. Spiders are the most species rich clade of venomous organisms, but the venoms of only a few species are well-understood, in part due to the difficulty associated with collecting minute quantities of venom from small animals. This paper presents a protocol for the collection of venom from spiders using electrical stimulation, demonstrating the procedure on the Western black widow (Latrodectus hesperus
). The collected venom is useful for varied downstream analyses including direct protein identification via mass spectrometry, functional assays, and stimulation of venom gene expression for transcriptomic studies. This technique has the advantage over protocols that isolate venom from whole gland homogenates, which do not separate genuine venom components from cellular proteins that are not secreted as part of the venom. Representative results demonstrate the detection of known venom peptides from the collected sample using mass spectrometry. The venom collection procedure is followed by a protocol for dissecting spider venom glands, with results demonstrating that this leads to the characterization of venom-expressed proteins and peptides at the sequence level.
Genetics, Issue 93, spider, toxin, proteomics, transcriptomics, electrical stimulation, Latrodectus
Profiling the Triacylglyceride Contents in Bat Integumentary Lipids by Preparative Thin Layer Chromatography and MALDI-TOF Mass Spectrometry
Institutions: Arkansas State University, Arkansas State University, Arkansas State University.
The mammalian integument includes sebaceous glands that secrete an oily material onto the skin surface. Sebum production is part of the innate immune system that is protective against pathogenic microbes. Abnormal sebum production and chemical composition are also a clinical symptom of specific skin diseases. Sebum contains a complex mixture of lipids, including triacylglycerides, which is species-specific. The broad chemical properties exhibited by diverse lipid classes hinder the specific determination of sebum composition. Analytical techniques for lipids typically require chemical derivatizations that are labor-intensive and increase sample preparation costs. This paper describes how to extract lipids from mammalian integument, separate broad lipid classes by thin-layer chromatography, and profile the triacylglyceride contents using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. This robust method enables a direct determination of the triacylglyceride profiles among species and individuals, and it can be readily applied to any taxonomic group of mammals.
Chemistry, Issue 79, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Eukaryota, Bacterial Infections and Mycoses, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Life Sciences (General), Triacylglyceride, Plagiopatagium, Integument, Sebaceous gland, White-Nose Syndrome, Matrix-Assisted Laser-desorption/Ionization Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry, Thin-Layer Chromatography, animal model
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Manufacturing and Using Piggy-back Multibarrel Electrodes for In vivo Pharmacological Manipulations of Neural Responses
Institutions: University of Colorado Medical Campus.
recordings from single neurons allow an investigator to examine the firing properties of neurons, for example in response to sensory stimuli. Neurons typically receive multiple excitatory and inhibitory afferent and/or efferent inputs that integrate with each other, and the ultimate measured response properties of the neuron are driven by the neural integrations of these inputs. To study information processing in neural systems, it is necessary to understand the various inputs to a neuron or neural system, and the specific properties of these inputs. A powerful and technically relatively simple method to assess the functional role of certain inputs that a given neuron is receiving is to dynamically and reversibly suppress or eliminate these inputs, and measure the changes in the neuron's output caused by this manipulation. This can be accomplished by pharmacologically altering the neuron's immediate environment with piggy-back multibarrel electrodes. These electrodes consist of a single barrel recording electrode and a multibarrel drug electrode that can carry up to 4 different synaptic agonists or antagonists. The pharmacological agents can be applied iontophoretically at desired times during the experiment, allowing for time-controlled delivery and reversible reconfiguration of synaptic inputs. As such, pharmacological manipulation of the microenvironment represents a powerful and unparalleled method to test specific hypotheses about neural circuit function.
Here we describe how piggy-back electrodes are manufactured, and how they are used during in vivo
experiments. The piggy-back system allows an investigator to combine a single barrel recording electrode of any arbitrary property (resistance, tip size, shape etc) with a multibarrel drug electrode. This is a major advantage over standard multi-electrodes, where all barrels have more or less similar shapes and properties. Multibarrel electrodes were first introduced over 40 years ago 1-3
, and have undergone a number of design improvements 2,3
until the piggy-back type was introduced in the 1980s 4,5
. Here we present a set of important improvements in the laboratory production of piggy-back electrodes that allow for deep brain penetration in intact in vivo
animal preparations due to a relatively thin electrode shaft that causes minimal damage. Furthermore these electrodes are characterized by low noise recordings, and have low resistance drug barrels for very effective iontophoresis of the desired pharmacological agents.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Biophysics, Physiology, Neurobiology, Medicine, Pharmacology, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Piggyback electrode, iontophoresis, iontophoresis pump, single cell recording, neural excitation, neural inhibition, in vivo electrophysiology
Synthetic Spider Silk Production on a Laboratory Scale
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
As society progresses and resources become scarcer, it is becoming increasingly important to cultivate new technologies that engineer next generation biomaterials with high performance properties. The development of these new structural materials must be rapid, cost-efficient and involve processing methodologies and products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Spiders spin a multitude of different fiber types with diverse mechanical properties, offering a rich source of next generation engineering materials for biomimicry that rival the best manmade and natural materials. Since the collection of large quantities of natural spider silk is impractical, synthetic silk production has the ability to provide scientists with access to an unlimited supply of threads. Therefore, if the spinning process can be streamlined and perfected, artificial spider fibers have the potential use for a broad range of applications ranging from body armor, surgical sutures, ropes and cables, tires, strings for musical instruments, and composites for aviation and aerospace technology. In order to advance the synthetic silk production process and to yield fibers that display low variance in their material properties from spin to spin, we developed a wet-spinning protocol that integrates expression of recombinant spider silk proteins in bacteria, purification and concentration of the proteins, followed by fiber extrusion and a mechanical post-spin treatment. This is the first visual representation that reveals a step-by-step process to spin and analyze artificial silk fibers on a laboratory scale. It also provides details to minimize the introduction of variability among fibers spun from the same spinning dope. Collectively, these methods will propel the process of artificial silk production, leading to higher quality fibers that surpass natural spider silks.
Bioengineering, Issue 65, Biochemistry, Spider silk, fibroins, synthetic spider silk, silk-producing glands, wet-spinning, post-spin draw
Functional Imaging of Brown Fat in Mice with 18F-FDG micro-PET/CT
Institutions: The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, Houston, The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, Houston.
Brown adipose tissue (BAT) differs from white adipose tissue (WAT) by its discrete location and a brown-red color due to rich vascularization and high density of mitochondria. BAT plays a major role in energy expenditure and non-shivering thermogenesis in newborn mammals as well as the adults 1
. BAT-mediated thermogenesis is highly regulated by the sympathetic nervous system, predominantly via β adrenergic receptor 2, 3
. Recent studies have shown that BAT activities in human adults are negatively correlated with body mass index (BMI) and other diabetic parameters 4-6
. BAT has thus been proposed as a potential target for anti-obesity/anti-diabetes therapy focusing on modulation of energy balance 6-8
. While several cold challenge-based positron emission tomography (PET) methods are established for detecting human BAT 9-13
, there is essentially no standardized protocol for imaging and quantification of BAT in small animal models such as mice. Here we describe a robust PET/CT imaging method for functional assessment of BAT in mice. Briefly, adult C57BL/6J mice were cold treated under fasting conditions for a duration of 4 hours before they received one dose of 18
F-Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG). The mice were remained in the cold for one additional hour post FDG injection, and then scanned with a small animal-dedicated micro-PET/CT system. The acquired PET images were co-registered with the CT images for anatomical references and analyzed for FDG uptake in the interscapular BAT area to present BAT activity. This standardized cold-treatment and imaging protocol has been validated through testing BAT activities during pharmacological interventions, for example, the suppressed BAT activation by the treatment of β-adrenoceptor antagonist propranolol 14, 15
, or the enhanced BAT activation by β3 agonist BRL37344 16
. The method described here can be applied to screen for drugs/compounds that modulate BAT activity, or to identify genes/pathways that are involved in BAT development and regulation in various preclinical and basic studies.
Molecular Biology, Issue 69, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Brown adipose tissue, mice, 18F-Fluorodeoxyglucose, micro-PET, PET, CT, CT scan, tomography, imaging
Isolation and Differentiation of Stromal Vascular Cells to Beige/Brite Cells
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco , University of Copenhagen, Denmark, National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research, Bergen, Norway.
Brown adipocytes have the ability to uncouple the respiratory chain in mitochondria and dissipate chemical energy as heat. Development of UCP1-positive brown adipocytes in white adipose tissues (so called beige or brite cells) is highly induced by a variety of environmental cues such as chronic cold exposure or by PPARγ agonists, therefore, this cell type has potential as a therapeutic target for obesity treatment. Although most immortalized adipocyte lines cannot recapitulate the process of "browning" of white fat in culture, primary adipocytes isolated from stromal vascular fraction in subcutaneous white adipose tissue (WAT) provide a reliable cellular system to study the molecular control of beige/brite cell development. Here we describe a protocol for effective isolation of primary preadipocytes and for inducing differentiation to beige/brite cells in culture. The browning effect can be assessed by the expression of brown fat-selective markers such as UCP1.
Cellular Biology, Issue 73, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Surgery, Adipose Tissue, Adipocytes, Transcription Factors, Cell Differentiation, Obesity, Diabetes, brown adipose tissue, beige/brite cells, primary adipocytes, stromal-vascular fraction, differentiation, uncoupling protein 1, rosiglitazone, differentiation, cells, isolation, fat, animal model
Basophil Activation Test for Investigation of IgE-Mediated Mechanisms in Drug Hypersensitivity
Institutions: University of Salzburg, Paracelsus Medical University, Paracelsus Medical University, Bühlmann Laboratories, University of Salzburg.
Hypersensitivity reactions against non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like propyphenazone (PP) and diclofenac (DF) can manifest as Type I-like allergic reactions 1
. In clinical practice, diagnosis of drug hypersensitivity is mainly performed by patient history, as skin testing is not reliable and oral provocation testing bears life-threatening risks for the patient 2
. Hence, evidence for an underlying IgE-mediated pathomechanism is hard to obtain.
Here, we present an in vitro
method based on the use of human basophils derived from drug-hypersensitive patients that mimics the allergic effector reaction in vivo
. As basophils of drug-allergic patients carry IgE molecules specific for the culprit drug, they become activated upon IgE receptor crosslinking and release allergic effector molecules. The activation of basophils can be monitored by the determination of the upregulation of CD63 surface expression using flow cytometry 3
In the case of low molecular weight drugs, conjugates are designed to enable IgE receptor crosslinking on basophils. As depicted in Figure 1
, two representatives of NSAIDs, PP and DF, are covalently bound to human serum albumin (HSA) via a carboxyl group reacting with the primary amino group of lysine residues. DF carries an intrinsic carboxyl group and, thus, can be used directly 4
, whereas a carboxyl group-containing derivative of PP had to be organochemically synthesized prior to the study 1
The coupling degree of the low molecular weight compounds on the protein carrier molecule and their spatial distribution is important to guarantee crosslinking of two IgE receptor molecules. The here described protocol applies high performance-size exclusion chromatography (HPSEC) equipped with a sequential refractive index (RI) and ultra violet (UV) detection system for determination of the coupling degree.
As the described methodology may be applied for other drugs, the basophil activation test (BAT) bears the potential to be used for the determination of IgE-mediated mechanisms in drug hypersensitivity. Here, we determine PP hypersensitivity as IgE-mediated and DF hypersensitivity as non-IgE-mediated by BAT.
Immunology, Issue 55, NSAIDs, hypersensitivity, propyphenazone, diclofenac, drug conjugates, basophil activation test
Functional Imaging of Auditory Cortex in Adult Cats using High-field fMRI
Institutions: University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario.
Current knowledge of sensory processing in the mammalian auditory system is mainly derived from electrophysiological studies in a variety of animal models, including monkeys, ferrets, bats, rodents, and cats. In order to draw suitable parallels between human and animal models of auditory function, it is important to establish a bridge between human functional imaging studies and animal electrophysiological studies. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is an established, minimally invasive method of measuring broad patterns of hemodynamic activity across different regions of the cerebral cortex. This technique is widely used to probe sensory function in the human brain, is a useful tool in linking studies of auditory processing in both humans and animals and has been successfully used to investigate auditory function in monkeys and rodents. The following protocol describes an experimental procedure for investigating auditory function in anesthetized adult cats by measuring stimulus-evoked hemodynamic changes in auditory cortex using fMRI. This method facilitates comparison of the hemodynamic responses across different models of auditory function thus leading to a better understanding of species-independent features of the mammalian auditory cortex.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Central Nervous System, Ear, Animal Experimentation, Models, Animal, Functional Neuroimaging, Brain Mapping, Nervous System, Sense Organs, auditory cortex, BOLD signal change, hemodynamic response, hearing, acoustic stimuli
Microdissection of Black Widow Spider Silk-producing Glands
Institutions: University of the Pacific.
Modern spiders spin high-performance silk fibers with a broad range of biological functions, including locomotion, prey capture and protection of developing offspring 1,2
. Spiders accomplish these tasks by spinning several distinct fiber types that have diverse mechanical properties. Such specialization of fiber types has occurred through the evolution of different silk-producing glands, which function as small biofactories. These biofactories manufacture and store large quantities of silk proteins for fiber production. Through a complex series of biochemical events, these silk proteins are converted from a liquid into a solid material upon extrusion.
Mechanical studies have demonstrated that spider silks are stronger than high-tensile steel 3
. Analyses to understand the relationship between the structure and function of spider silk threads have revealed that spider silk consists largely of proteins, or fibroins, that have block repeats within their protein sequences 4
. Common molecular signatures that contribute to the incredible tensile strength and extensibility of spider silks are being unraveled through the analyses of translated silk cDNAs. Given the extraordinary material properties of spider silks, research labs across the globe are racing to understand and mimic the spinning process to produce synthetic silk fibers for commercial, military and industrial applications. One of the main challenges to spinning artificial spider silk in the research lab involves a complete understanding of the biochemical processes that occur during extrusion of the fibers from the silk-producing glands.
Here we present a method for the isolation of the seven different silk-producing glands from the cobweaving black widow spider, which includes the major and minor ampullate glands [manufactures dragline and scaffolding silk] 5,6
, tubuliform [synthesizes egg case silk] 7,8
, flagelliform [unknown function in cob-weavers], aggregate [makes glue silk], aciniform [synthesizes prey wrapping and egg case threads] 9
and pyriform [produces attachment disc silk] 10
. This approach is based upon anesthetizing the spider with carbon dioxide gas, subsequent separation of the cephalothorax from the abdomen, and microdissection of the abdomen to obtain the silk-producing glands. Following the separation of the different silk-producing glands, these tissues can be used to retrieve different macromolecules for distinct biochemical analyses, including quantitative real-time PCR, northern- and western blotting, mass spectrometry (MS or MS/MS) analyses to identify new silk protein sequences, search for proteins that participate in the silk assembly pathway, or use the intact tissue for cell culture or histological experiments.
Cellular Biology, Issue 47, Spider silk, silk-producing glands, fibroins, structural proteins, spidroins
A Novel Method for Assessing Proximal and Distal Forelimb Function in the Rat: the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan (IBB) Forelimb Scale
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco.
Several experimental models of cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) have been developed recently to assess the consequences of damage to this level of the spinal cord (Pearse et al.
, 2005, Gensel et al.
, 2006, Anderson et al.
, 2009), as the majority of human SCI occur here (Young, 2010; www.sci-info-pages.com). Behavioral deficits include loss of forelimb function due to damage to the white matter affecting both descending motor and ascending sensory systems, and to the gray matter containing the segmental circuitry for processing sensory input and motor output for the forelimb. Additionally, a key priority for human patients with cervical SCI is restoration of hand/arm function (Anderson, 2004). Thus, outcome measures that assess both proximal and distal forelimb function are needed. Although there are several behavioral assays that are sensitive to different aspects of forelimb recovery in experimental models of cervical SCI (Girgis et al.
, 2007, Gensel et al.
, 2006, Ballerman et al.
, 2001, Metz and Whishaw, 2000, Bertelli and Mira, 1993, Montoya et al.
, 1991, Whishaw and Pellis, 1990), few techniques provide detailed information on the recovery of fine motor control and digit movement.
The current measurement technique, the Irvine, Beatties and Bresnahan forelimb scale (IBB), can detect recovery of both proximal and distal forelimb function including digit movements during a naturally occurring behavior that does not require extensive training or deprivation to enhance motivation. The IBB was generated by observing recovery after a unilateral C6 SCI, and involves video recording of animals eating two differently shaped cereals (spherical and doughnut) of a consistent size. These videos were then used to assess features of forelimb use, such as joint position, object support, digit movement and grasping technique.
The IBB, like other forelimb behavioral tasks, shows a consistent pattern of recovery that is sensitive to injury severity. Furthermore, the IBB scale could be used to assess recovery following other types of injury that impact normal forelimb function.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, spinal cord injury, recovery of function, forelimb function, neurological test, cervical injuries
Localization, Identification, and Excision of Murine Adipose Depots
Institutions: University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.
Obesity has increased dramatically in the last few decades and affects over one third of the adult US population. The economic effect of obesity in 2005 reached a staggering sum of $190.2 billion in direct medical costs alone. Obesity is a major risk factor for a wide host of diseases. Historically, little was known regarding adipose and its major and essential functions in the body. Brown and white adipose are the two main types of adipose but current literature has identified a new type of fat called brite or beige adipose. Research has shown that adipose depots have specific metabolic profiles and certain depots allow for a propensity for obesity and other related disorders. The goal of this protocol is to provide researchers the capacity to identify and excise adipose depots that will allow for the analysis of different factorial effects on adipose; as well as the beneficial or detrimental role adipose plays in disease and overall health. Isolation and excision of adipose depots allows investigators to look at gross morphological changes as well as histological changes. The adipose isolated can also be used for molecular studies to evaluate transcriptional and translational change or for in vitro
experimentation to discover targets of interest and mechanisms of action. This technique is superior to other published techniques due to the design allowing for isolation of multiple depots with simplicity and minimal contamination.
Medicine, Issue 94, adipose, surgical, excision, subcutaneous adipose tissue (SQ), perivascular adipose tissue (PVAT), visceral adipose tissue (VAT), brown adipose tissue (BAT), white adipose tissue (WAT)
Human Fear Conditioning Conducted in Full Immersion 3-Dimensional Virtual Reality
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Fear conditioning is a widely used paradigm in non-human animal research to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety. A major challenge in conducting conditioning studies in humans is the ability to strongly manipulate or simulate the environmental contexts that are associated with conditioned emotional behaviors. In this regard, virtual reality (VR) technology is a promising tool. Yet, adapting this technology to meet experimental constraints requires special accommodations. Here we address the methodological issues involved when conducting fear conditioning in a fully immersive 6-sided VR environment and present fear conditioning data.
In the real world, traumatic events occur in complex environments that are made up of many cues, engaging all of our sensory modalities. For example, cues that form the environmental configuration include not only visual elements, but aural, olfactory, and even tactile. In rodent studies of fear conditioning animals are fully immersed in a context that is rich with novel visual, tactile and olfactory cues. However, standard laboratory tests of fear conditioning in humans are typically conducted in a nondescript room in front of a flat or 2D computer screen and do not replicate the complexity of real world experiences. On the other hand, a major limitation of clinical studies aimed at reducing (extinguishing) fear and preventing relapse in anxiety disorders is that treatment occurs after participants have acquired a fear in an uncontrolled and largely unknown context. Thus the experimenters are left without information about the duration of exposure, the true nature of the stimulus, and associated background cues in the environment1
. In the absence of this information it can be difficult to truly extinguish a fear that is both cue and context-dependent. Virtual reality environments address these issues by providing the complexity of the real world, and at the same time allowing experimenters to constrain fear conditioning and extinction parameters to yield empirical data that can suggest better treatment options and/or analyze mechanistic hypotheses.
In order to test the hypothesis that fear conditioning may be richly encoded and context specific when conducted in a fully immersive environment, we developed distinct virtual reality 3-D contexts in which participants experienced fear conditioning to virtual snakes or spiders. Auditory cues co-occurred with the CS in order to further evoke orienting responses and a feeling of "presence" in subjects 2
. Skin conductance response served as the dependent measure of fear acquisition, memory retention and extinction.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 42, fear conditioning, virtual reality, human memory, skin conductance response, context learning