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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes. Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements. Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning. Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity. The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+ Itpr3tf
/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
Automated Interactive Video Playback for Studies of Animal Communication
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Video playback is a widely-used technique for the controlled manipulation and presentation of visual signals in animal communication. In particular, parameter-based computer animation offers the opportunity to independently manipulate any number of behavioral, morphological, or spectral characteristics in the context of realistic, moving images of animals on screen. A major limitation of conventional playback, however, is that the visual stimulus lacks the ability to interact with the live animal. Borrowing from video-game technology, we have created an automated, interactive system for video playback that controls animations in response to real-time signals from a video tracking system. We demonstrated this method by conducting mate-choice trials on female swordtail fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni
. Females were given a simultaneous choice between a courting male conspecific and a courting male heterospecific (X. malinche
) on opposite sides of an aquarium. The virtual male stimulus was programmed to track the horizontal position of the female, as courting males do in the wild. Mate-choice trials on wild-caught X. birchmanni
females were used to validate the prototype's ability to effectively generate a realistic visual stimulus.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Computer animation, visual communication, mate choice, Xiphophorus birchmanni, tracking
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al.
, 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
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
Pharmacologic Induction of Epidermal Melanin and Protection Against Sunburn in a Humanized Mouse Model
Institutions: University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine.
Fairness of skin, UV sensitivity and skin cancer risk all correlate with the physiologic function of the melanocortin 1 receptor, a Gs
-coupled signaling protein found on the surface of melanocytes. Mc1r stimulates adenylyl cyclase and cAMP production which, in turn, up-regulates melanocytic production of melanin in the skin. In order to study the mechanisms by which Mc1r signaling protects the skin against UV injury, this study relies on a mouse model with "humanized skin" based on epidermal expression of stem cell factor (Scf). K14-Scf
transgenic mice retain melanocytes in the epidermis and therefore have the ability to deposit melanin in the epidermis. In this animal model, wild type Mc1r status results in robust deposition of black eumelanin pigment and a UV-protected phenotype. In contrast, K14-Scf
animals with defective Mc1r signaling ability exhibit a red/blonde pigmentation, very little eumelanin in the skin and a UV-sensitive phenotype. Reasoning that eumelanin deposition might be enhanced by topical agents that mimic Mc1r signaling, we found that direct application of forskolin extract to the skin of Mc1r-defective fair-skinned mice resulted in robust eumelanin induction and UV protection 1
. Here we describe the method for preparing and applying a forskolin-containing natural root extract to K14-Scf
fair-skinned mice and report a method for measuring UV sensitivity by determining minimal erythematous dose (MED). Using this animal model, it is possible to study how epidermal cAMP induction and melanization of the skin affect physiologic responses to UV exposure.
Medicine, Issue 79, Skin, Inflammation, Photometry, Ultraviolet Rays, Skin Pigmentation, melanocortin 1 receptor, Mc1r, forskolin, cAMP, mean erythematous dose, skin pigmentation, melanocyte, melanin, sunburn, UV, inflammation
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
An Investigation of the Effects of Sports-related Concussion in Youth Using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and the Head Impact Telemetry System
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto, Bloorview Kids Rehab, Toronto Rehab, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto.
One of the most commonly reported injuries in children who participate in sports is concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI)1
. Children and youth involved in organized sports such as competitive hockey are nearly six times more likely to suffer a severe concussion compared to children involved in other leisure physical activities2
. While the most common cognitive sequelae of mTBI appear similar for children and adults, the recovery profile and breadth of consequences in children remains largely unknown2
, as does the influence of pre-injury characteristics (e.g. gender) and injury details (e.g. magnitude and direction of impact) on long-term outcomes. Competitive sports, such as hockey, allow the rare opportunity to utilize a pre-post design to obtain pre-injury data before concussion occurs on youth characteristics and functioning and to relate this to outcome following injury. Our primary goals are to refine pediatric concussion diagnosis and management based on research evidence that is specific to children and youth. To do this we use new, multi-modal and integrative approaches that will:
1.Evaluate the immediate effects of head trauma in youth
2.Monitor the resolution of post-concussion symptoms (PCS) and cognitive performance during recovery
3.Utilize new methods to verify brain injury and recovery
To achieve our goals, we have implemented the Head Impact Telemetry (HIT) System. (Simbex; Lebanon, NH, USA). This system equips commercially available Easton S9 hockey helmets (Easton-Bell Sports; Van Nuys, CA, USA) with single-axis accelerometers designed to measure real-time head accelerations during contact sport participation 3 - 5
. By using telemetric technology, the magnitude of acceleration and location of all head impacts during sport participation can be objectively detected and recorded. We also use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to localize and assess changes in neural activity specifically in the medial temporal and frontal lobes during the performance of cognitive tasks, since those are the cerebral regions most sensitive to concussive head injury 6
. Finally, we are acquiring structural imaging data sensitive to damage in brain white matter.
Medicine, Issue 47, Mild traumatic brain injury, concussion, fMRI, youth, Head Impact Telemetry System
The Measurement and Treatment of Suppression in Amblyopia
Institutions: University of Auckland, McGill University , McGill University .
Amblyopia, a developmental disorder of the visual cortex, is one of the leading causes of visual dysfunction in the working age population. Current estimates put the prevalence of amblyopia at approximately 1-3%1-3
, the majority of cases being monocular2
. Amblyopia is most frequently caused by ocular misalignment (strabismus), blur induced by unequal refractive error (anisometropia), and in some cases by form deprivation.
Although amblyopia is initially caused by abnormal visual input in infancy, once established, the visual deficit often remains when normal visual input has been restored using surgery and/or refractive correction. This is because amblyopia is the result of abnormal visual cortex development rather than a problem with the amblyopic eye itself4,5
. Amblyopia is characterized by both monocular and binocular deficits6,7
which include impaired visual acuity and poor or absent stereopsis respectively. The visual dysfunction in amblyopia is often associated with a strong suppression of the inputs from the amblyopic eye under binocular viewing conditions8
. Recent work has indicated that suppression may play a central role in both the monocular and binocular deficits associated with amblyopia9,10
Current clinical tests for suppression tend to verify the presence or absence of suppression rather than giving a quantitative measurement of the degree of suppression. Here we describe a technique for measuring amblyopic suppression with a compact, portable device11,12
. The device consists of a laptop computer connected to a pair of virtual reality goggles. The novelty of the technique lies in the way we present visual stimuli to measure suppression. Stimuli are shown to the amblyopic eye at high contrast while the contrast of the stimuli shown to the non-amblyopic eye are varied. Patients perform a simple signal/noise task that allows for a precise measurement of the strength of excitatory binocular interactions. The contrast offset at which neither eye has a performance advantage is a measure of the "balance point" and is a direct measure of suppression. This technique has been validated psychophysically both in control13,14
In addition to measuring suppression this technique also forms the basis of a novel form of treatment to decrease suppression over time and improve binocular and often monocular function in adult patients with amblyopia12,15,16
. This new treatment approach can be deployed either on the goggle system described above or on a specially modified iPod touch device15
Medicine, Issue 70, Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Amblyopia, suppression, visual cortex, binocular vision, plasticity, strabismus, anisometropia
Optimized Negative Staining: a High-throughput Protocol for Examining Small and Asymmetric Protein Structure by Electron Microscopy
Institutions: The Molecular Foundry.
Structural determination of proteins is rather challenging for proteins with molecular masses between 40 - 200 kDa. Considering that more than half of natural proteins have a molecular mass between 40 - 200 kDa1,2
, a robust and high-throughput method with a nanometer resolution capability is needed. Negative staining (NS) electron microscopy (EM) is an easy, rapid, and qualitative approach which has frequently been used in research laboratories to examine protein structure and protein-protein interactions. Unfortunately, conventional NS protocols often generate structural artifacts on proteins, especially with lipoproteins that usually form presenting rouleaux artifacts. By using images of lipoproteins from cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) as a standard, the key parameters in NS specimen preparation conditions were recently screened and reported as the optimized NS protocol (OpNS), a modified conventional NS protocol 3
. Artifacts like rouleaux can be greatly limited by OpNS, additionally providing high contrast along with reasonably high‐resolution (near 1 nm) images of small and asymmetric proteins. These high-resolution and high contrast images are even favorable for an individual protein (a single object, no average) 3D reconstruction, such as a 160 kDa antibody, through the method of electron tomography4,5
. Moreover, OpNS can be a high‐throughput tool to examine hundreds of samples of small proteins. For example, the previously published mechanism of 53 kDa cholesteryl ester transfer protein (CETP) involved the screening and imaging of hundreds of samples 6
. Considering cryo-EM rarely successfully images proteins less than 200 kDa has yet to publish any study involving screening over one hundred sample conditions, it is fair to call OpNS a high-throughput method for studying small proteins. Hopefully the OpNS protocol presented here can be a useful tool to push the boundaries of EM and accelerate EM studies into small protein structure, dynamics and mechanisms.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 90, small and asymmetric protein structure, electron microscopy, optimized negative staining
Cryosectioning Yeast Communities for Examining Fluorescence Patterns
Institutions: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Microbes typically live in communities. The spatial organization of cells within a community is believed to impact the survival and function of the community1
. Optical sectioning techniques, including confocal and two-photon microscopy, have proven useful for observing spatial organization of bacterial and archaeal communities2,3
. A combination of confocal imaging and physical sectioning of yeast colonies has revealed internal organization of cells4
. However, direct optical sectioning using confocal or two-photon microscopy has been only able to reach a few cell layers deep into yeast colonies. This limitation is likely because of strong scattering of light from yeast cells4
Here, we present a method based on fixing and cryosectioning to obtain spatial distribution of fluorescent cells within Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities. We use methanol as the fixative agent to preserve the spatial distribution of cells. Fixed communities are infiltrated with OCT compound, frozen, and cryosectioned in a cryostat. Fluorescence imaging of the sections reveals the internal organization of fluorescent cells within the community.
Examples of yeast communities consisting of strains expressing red and green fluorescent proteins demonstrate the potentials of the cryosectioning method to reveal the spatial distribution of fluorescent cells as well as that of gene expression within yeast colonies2,3
. Even though our focus has been on Saccharomyces cerevisiae
communities, the same method can potentially be applied to examine other microbial communities.
Microbiology, Issue 70, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Yeasts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Cytological Techniques, Environmental Microbiology, Investigative Techniques, Life Sciences, cryosectioning, sectioning, cryotome, fixing, microbial community, yeast colonies, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, community interactions
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
A Microplate Assay to Assess Chemical Effects on RBL-2H3 Mast Cell Degranulation: Effects of Triclosan without Use of an Organic Solvent
Institutions: University of Maine, Orono, University of Maine, Orono.
Mast cells play important roles in allergic disease and immune defense against parasites. Once activated (e.g.
by an allergen), they degranulate, a process that results in the exocytosis of allergic mediators. Modulation of mast cell degranulation by drugs and toxicants may have positive or adverse effects on human health. Mast cell function has been dissected in detail with the use of rat basophilic leukemia mast cells (RBL-2H3), a widely accepted model of human mucosal mast cells3-5
. Mast cell granule component and the allergic mediator β-hexosaminidase, which is released linearly in tandem with histamine from mast cells6
, can easily and reliably be measured through reaction with a fluorogenic substrate, yielding measurable fluorescence intensity in a microplate assay that is amenable to high-throughput studies1
. Originally published by Naal et al.1
, we have adapted this degranulation assay for the screening of drugs and toxicants and demonstrate its use here.
Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that is present in many consumer products and has been found to be a therapeutic aid in human allergic skin disease7-11
, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate an assay for the effect of triclosan on mast cell degranulation. We recently showed that triclosan strongly affects mast cell function2
. In an effort to avoid use of an organic solvent, triclosan is dissolved directly into aqueous buffer with heat and stirring, and resultant concentration is confirmed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry (using ε280
= 4,200 L/M/cm)12
. This protocol has the potential to be used with a variety of chemicals to determine their effects on mast cell degranulation, and more broadly, their allergic potential.
Immunology, Issue 81, mast cell, basophil, degranulation, RBL-2H3, triclosan, irgasan, antibacterial, β-hexosaminidase, allergy, Asthma, toxicants, ionophore, antigen, fluorescence, microplate, UV-Vis
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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 Neural and Behavioral Activity During Ongoing Computerized Social Interactions: An Examination of Event-Related Brain Potentials
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University.
Social exclusion is a complex social phenomenon with powerful negative consequences. Given the impact of social exclusion on mental and emotional health, an understanding of how perceptions of social exclusion develop over the course of a social interaction is important for advancing treatments aimed at lessening the harmful costs of being excluded. To date, most scientific examinations of social exclusion have looked at exclusion after a social interaction has been completed. While this has been very helpful in developing an understanding of what happens to a person following exclusion, it has not helped to clarify the moment-to-moment dynamics of the process of social exclusion. Accordingly, the current protocol was developed to obtain an improved understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of event-related brain activation that are present during social interactions. This protocol allows greater precision and sensitivity in detailing the social processes that lead people to feel as though they have been excluded from a social interaction. Importantly, the current protocol can be adapted to include research projects that vary the nature of exclusionary social interactions by altering how frequently participants are included, how long the periods of exclusion will last in each interaction, and when exclusion will take place during the social interactions. Further, the current protocol can be used to examine variables and constructs beyond those related to social exclusion. This capability to address a variety of applications across psychology by obtaining both neural and behavioral data during ongoing social interactions suggests the present protocol could be at the core of a developing area of scientific inquiry related to social interactions.
Behavior, Issue 93, Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), Social Exclusion, Neuroscience, N2, P3, Cognitive Control
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
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
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
Making MR Imaging Child's Play - Pediatric Neuroimaging Protocol, Guidelines and Procedure
Institutions: Children’s Hospital Boston, University of Zurich, Harvard, Harvard Medical School.
Within the last decade there has been an increase in the use of structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural basis of human perception, cognition and behavior 1, 2
. Moreover, this non-invasive imaging method has grown into a tool for clinicians and researchers to explore typical and atypical brain development. Although advances in neuroimaging tools and techniques are apparent, (f)MRI in young pediatric populations remains relatively infrequent 2
. Practical as well as technical challenges when imaging children present clinicians and research teams with a unique set of problems 3, 2
. To name just a few, the child participants are challenged by a need for motivation, alertness and cooperation. Anxiety may be an additional factor to be addressed. Researchers or clinicians need to consider time constraints, movement restriction, scanner background noise and unfamiliarity with the MR scanner environment2,4-10
. A progressive use of functional and structural neuroimaging in younger age groups, however, could further add to our understanding of brain development. As an example, several research groups are currently working towards early detection of developmental disorders, potentially even before children present associated behavioral characteristics e.g.11
. Various strategies and techniques have been reported as a means to ensure comfort and cooperation of young children during neuroimaging sessions. Play therapy 12
, behavioral approaches 13, 14,15, 16-18
and simulation 19
, the use of mock scanner areas 20,21
, basic relaxation 22
and a combination of these techniques 23
have all been shown to improve the participant's compliance and thus MRI data quality. Even more importantly, these strategies have proven to increase the comfort of families and children involved 12
. One of the main advances of such techniques for the clinical practice is the possibility of avoiding sedation or general anesthesia (GA) as a way to manage children's compliance during MR imaging sessions 19,20
. In the current video report, we present a pediatric neuroimaging protocol with guidelines and procedures that have proven to be successful to date in young children.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, fMRI, imaging, development, children, pediatric neuroimaging, cognitive development, magnetic resonance imaging, pediatric imaging protocol, patient preparation, mock scanner
Microbial Communities in Nature and Laboratory - Interview
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, biofilm, genome
Biology of Microbial Communities - Interview
Institutions: Harvard Medical School.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, DNA, extraction, gut, termit