Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
Novel Apparatus and Method for Drug Reinforcement
Institutions: University of Texas at Austin.
Animal models of reinforcement have proven to be useful for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying drug addiction. Operant drug self-administration and conditioned place preference (CPP) procedures are expansively used in animal research to model various components of drug reinforcement, consumption, and addiction in humans. For this study, we used a novel approach to studying drug reinforcement in rats by combining traditional CPP and self-administration methodologies. We assembled an apparatus using two Med Associate operant chambers, sensory stimuli, and a Plexiglas-constructed neutral zone. These modifications allowed our experiments to encompass motivational aspects of drug intake through self-administration and drug-free assessment of drug/cue conditioning strength with the CPP test. In our experiments, rats self-administered cocaine (0.75 mg/kg/inj, i.v.) during either four (e.g., the "short-term") or eight (e.g., the "long-term") alternating-day sessions in an operant environment containing distinctive sensory cues (e.g., olfactory and visual). On the alternate days, in the other (differently-cued) operant environment, saline was available for self-infusion (0.1 ml, i.v.). Twenty-four hours after the last self-administration/cue-pairing session, a CPP test was conducted. Consistent with typical CPP findings, there was a significant preference for the chamber associated with cocaine self-administration. In addition, in animals undergoing the long-term experiment, a significant positive correlation between CPP magnitude and the number of cocaine-reinforced lever responses. In conclusion, this apparatus and approach is time and cost effective, can be used to examine a wide array of topics pertaining to drug abuse, and provides more flexibility in experimental design than CPP or self-administration methods alone.
Neuroscience, Issue 42, conditioned place preference (CPP), self-administration, rat, behavioral neuroscience, drug reinforcement, cocaine, animal models
Eye Tracking, Cortisol, and a Sleep vs. Wake Consolidation Delay: Combining Methods to Uncover an Interactive Effect of Sleep and Cortisol on Memory
Institutions: Boston College, Wofford College, University of Notre Dame.
Although rises in cortisol can benefit memory consolidation, as can sleep soon after encoding, there is currently a paucity of literature as to how these two factors may interact to influence consolidation. Here we present a protocol to examine the interactive influence of cortisol and sleep on memory consolidation, by combining three methods: eye tracking, salivary cortisol analysis, and behavioral memory testing across sleep and wake delays. To assess resting cortisol levels, participants gave a saliva sample before viewing negative and neutral objects within scenes. To measure overt attention, participants’ eye gaze was tracked during encoding. To manipulate whether sleep occurred during the consolidation window, participants either encoded scenes in the evening, slept overnight, and took a recognition test the next morning, or encoded scenes in the morning and remained awake during a comparably long retention interval. Additional control groups were tested after a 20 min delay in the morning or evening, to control for time-of-day effects. Together, results showed that there is a direct relation between resting cortisol at encoding and subsequent memory, only following a period of sleep. Through eye tracking, it was further determined that for negative stimuli, this beneficial effect of cortisol on subsequent memory may be due to cortisol strengthening the relation between where participants look during encoding and what they are later able to remember. Overall, results obtained by a combination of these methods uncovered an interactive effect of sleep and cortisol on memory consolidation.
Behavior, Issue 88, attention, consolidation, cortisol, emotion, encoding, glucocorticoids, memory, sleep, stress
Flying Insect Detection and Classification with Inexpensive Sensors
Institutions: University of California, Riverside, University of California, Riverside, University of São Paulo - USP, ISCA Technologies.
An inexpensive, noninvasive system that could accurately classify flying insects would have important implications for entomological research, and allow for the development of many useful applications in vector and pest control for both medical and agricultural entomology. Given this, the last sixty years have seen many research efforts devoted to this task. To date, however, none of this research has had a lasting impact. In this work, we show that pseudo-acoustic optical sensors can produce superior data; that additional features, both intrinsic and extrinsic to the insect’s flight behavior, can be exploited to improve insect classification; that a Bayesian classification approach allows to efficiently learn classification models that are very robust to over-fitting, and a general classification framework allows to easily incorporate arbitrary number of features. We demonstrate the findings with large-scale experiments that dwarf all previous works combined, as measured by the number of insects and the number of species considered.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, flying insect detection, automatic insect classification, pseudo-acoustic optical sensors, Bayesian classification framework, flight sound, circadian rhythm
Designing Silk-silk Protein Alloy Materials for Biomedical Applications
Institutions: Rowan University, Rowan University, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, Rowan University.
Fibrous proteins display different sequences and structures that have been used for various applications in biomedical fields such as biosensors, nanomedicine, tissue regeneration, and drug delivery. Designing materials based on the molecular-scale interactions between these proteins will help generate new multifunctional protein alloy biomaterials with tunable properties. Such alloy material systems also provide advantages in comparison to traditional synthetic polymers due to the materials biodegradability, biocompatibility, and tenability in the body. This article used the protein blends of wild tussah silk (Antheraea pernyi
) and domestic mulberry silk (Bombyx mori
) as an example to provide useful protocols regarding these topics, including how to predict protein-protein interactions by computational methods, how to produce protein alloy solutions, how to verify alloy systems by thermal analysis, and how to fabricate variable alloy materials including optical materials with diffraction gratings, electric materials with circuits coatings, and pharmaceutical materials for drug release and delivery. These methods can provide important information for designing the next generation multifunctional biomaterials based on different protein alloys.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, protein alloys, biomaterials, biomedical, silk blends, computational simulation, implantable electronic devices
High-throughput Image Analysis of Tumor Spheroids: A User-friendly Software Application to Measure the Size of Spheroids Automatically and Accurately
Institutions: Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation, New Jersey, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Institute for Advanced Study, New Jersey.
The increasing number of applications of three-dimensional (3D) tumor spheroids as an in vitro
model for drug discovery requires their adaptation to large-scale screening formats in every step of a drug screen, including large-scale image analysis. Currently there is no ready-to-use and free image analysis software to meet this large-scale format. Most existing methods involve manually drawing the length and width of the imaged 3D spheroids, which is a tedious and time-consuming process. This study presents a high-throughput image analysis software application – SpheroidSizer, which measures the major and minor axial length of the imaged 3D tumor spheroids automatically and accurately; calculates the volume of each individual 3D tumor spheroid; then outputs the results in two different forms in spreadsheets for easy manipulations in the subsequent data analysis. The main advantage of this software is its powerful image analysis application that is adapted for large numbers of images. It provides high-throughput computation and quality-control workflow. The estimated time to process 1,000 images is about 15 min on a minimally configured laptop, or around 1 min on a multi-core performance workstation. The graphical user interface (GUI) is also designed for easy quality control, and users can manually override the computer results. The key method used in this software is adapted from the active contour algorithm, also known as Snakes, which is especially suitable for images with uneven illumination and noisy background that often plagues automated imaging processing in high-throughput screens. The complimentary “Manual Initialize” and “Hand Draw” tools provide the flexibility to SpheroidSizer in dealing with various types of spheroids and diverse quality images. This high-throughput image analysis software remarkably reduces labor and speeds up the analysis process. Implementing this software is beneficial for 3D tumor spheroids to become a routine in vitro
model for drug screens in industry and academia.
Cancer Biology, Issue 89, computer programming, high-throughput, image analysis, tumor spheroids, 3D, software application, cancer therapy, drug screen, neuroendocrine tumor cell line, BON-1, cancer research
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
A Method for Investigating Age-related Differences in the Functional Connectivity of Cognitive Control Networks Associated with Dimensional Change Card Sort Performance
Institutions: University of Western Ontario.
The ability to adjust behavior to sudden changes in the environment develops gradually in childhood and adolescence. For example, in the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, participants switch from sorting cards one way, such as shape, to sorting them a different way, such as color. Adjusting behavior in this way exacts a small performance cost, or switch cost, such that responses are typically slower and more error-prone on switch trials in which the sorting rule changes as compared to repeat trials in which the sorting rule remains the same. The ability to flexibly adjust behavior is often said to develop gradually, in part because behavioral costs such as switch costs typically decrease with increasing age. Why aspects of higher-order cognition, such as behavioral flexibility, develop so gradually remains an open question. One hypothesis is that these changes occur in association with functional changes in broad-scale cognitive control networks. On this view, complex mental operations, such as switching, involve rapid interactions between several distributed brain regions, including those that update and maintain task rules, re-orient attention, and select behaviors. With development, functional connections between these regions strengthen, leading to faster and more efficient switching operations. The current video describes a method of testing this hypothesis through the collection and multivariate analysis of fMRI data from participants of different ages.
Behavior, Issue 87, Neurosciences, fMRI, Cognitive Control, Development, Functional Connectivity
Adaptation of Semiautomated Circulating Tumor Cell (CTC) Assays for Clinical and Preclinical Research Applications
Institutions: London Health Sciences Centre, Western University, London Health Sciences Centre, Lawson Health Research Institute, Western University.
The majority of cancer-related deaths occur subsequent to the development of metastatic disease. This highly lethal disease stage is associated with the presence of circulating tumor cells (CTCs). These rare cells have been demonstrated to be of clinical significance in metastatic breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. The current gold standard in clinical CTC detection and enumeration is the FDA-cleared CellSearch system (CSS). This manuscript outlines the standard protocol utilized by this platform as well as two additional adapted protocols that describe the detailed process of user-defined marker optimization for protein characterization of patient CTCs and a comparable protocol for CTC capture in very low volumes of blood, using standard CSS reagents, for studying in vivo
preclinical mouse models of metastasis. In addition, differences in CTC quality between healthy donor blood spiked with cells from tissue culture versus patient blood samples are highlighted. Finally, several commonly discrepant items that can lead to CTC misclassification errors are outlined. Taken together, these protocols will provide a useful resource for users of this platform interested in preclinical and clinical research pertaining to metastasis and CTCs.
Medicine, Issue 84, Metastasis, circulating tumor cells (CTCs), CellSearch system, user defined marker characterization, in vivo, preclinical mouse model, clinical research
Characterization of Electrode Materials for Lithium Ion and Sodium Ion Batteries Using Synchrotron Radiation Techniques
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, University of Illinois at Chicago, Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, Haldor Topsøe A/S, PolyPlus Battery Company.
Intercalation compounds such as transition metal oxides or phosphates are the most commonly used electrode materials in Li-ion and Na-ion batteries. During insertion or removal of alkali metal ions, the redox states of transition metals in the compounds change and structural transformations such as phase transitions and/or lattice parameter increases or decreases occur. These behaviors in turn determine important characteristics of the batteries such as the potential profiles, rate capabilities, and cycle lives. The extremely bright and tunable x-rays produced by synchrotron radiation allow rapid acquisition of high-resolution data that provide information about these processes. Transformations in the bulk materials, such as phase transitions, can be directly observed using X-ray diffraction (XRD), while X-ray absorption spectroscopy (XAS) gives information about the local electronic and geometric structures (e.g.
changes in redox states and bond lengths). In situ
experiments carried out on operating cells are particularly useful because they allow direct correlation between the electrochemical and structural properties of the materials. These experiments are time-consuming and can be challenging to design due to the reactivity and air-sensitivity of the alkali metal anodes used in the half-cell configurations, and/or the possibility of signal interference from other cell components and hardware. For these reasons, it is appropriate to carry out ex situ
on electrodes harvested from partially charged or cycled cells) in some cases. Here, we present detailed protocols for the preparation of both ex situ
and in situ
samples for experiments involving synchrotron radiation and demonstrate how these experiments are done.
Physics, Issue 81, X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy, X-Ray Diffraction, inorganic chemistry, electric batteries (applications), energy storage, Electrode materials, Li-ion battery, Na-ion battery, X-ray Absorption Spectroscopy (XAS), in situ X-ray diffraction (XRD)
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Protocols for Implementing an Escherichia coli Based TX-TL Cell-Free Expression System for Synthetic Biology
Institutions: California Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Minnesota.
Ideal cell-free expression systems can theoretically emulate an in vivo
cellular environment in a controlled in vitro
This is useful for expressing proteins and genetic circuits in a controlled manner as well as for providing a prototyping environment for synthetic biology.2,3
To achieve the latter goal, cell-free expression systems that preserve endogenous Escherichia coli transcription-translation mechanisms are able to more accurately reflect in vivo
cellular dynamics than those based on T7 RNA polymerase transcription. We describe the preparation and execution of an efficient endogenous E. coli
based transcription-translation (TX-TL) cell-free expression system that can produce equivalent amounts of protein as T7-based systems at a 98% cost reduction to similar commercial systems.4,5
The preparation of buffers and crude cell extract are described, as well as the execution of a three tube TX-TL reaction. The entire protocol takes five days to prepare and yields enough material for up to 3000 single reactions in one preparation. Once prepared, each reaction takes under 8 hr from setup to data collection and analysis. Mechanisms of regulation and transcription exogenous to E. coli
, such as lac/tet repressors and T7 RNA polymerase, can be supplemented.6
Endogenous properties, such as mRNA and DNA degradation rates, can also be adjusted.7
The TX-TL cell-free expression system has been demonstrated for large-scale circuit assembly, exploring biological phenomena, and expression of proteins under both T7- and endogenous promoters.6,8
Accompanying mathematical models are available.9,10
The resulting system has unique applications in synthetic biology as a prototyping environment, or "TX-TL biomolecular breadboard."
Cellular Biology, Issue 79, Bioengineering, Synthetic Biology, Chemistry Techniques, Synthetic, Molecular Biology, control theory, TX-TL, cell-free expression, in vitro, transcription-translation, cell-free protein synthesis, synthetic biology, systems biology, Escherichia coli cell extract, biological circuits, biomolecular breadboard
A Procedure to Observe Context-induced Renewal of Pavlovian-conditioned Alcohol-seeking Behavior in Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
Environmental contexts in which drugs of abuse are consumed can trigger craving, a subjective Pavlovian-conditioned response that can facilitate drug-seeking behavior and prompt relapse in abstinent drug users. We have developed a procedure to study the behavioral and neural processes that mediate the impact of context on alcohol-seeking behavior in rats. Following acclimation to the taste and pharmacological effects of 15% ethanol in the home cage, male Long-Evans rats receive Pavlovian discrimination training (PDT) in conditioning chambers. In each daily (Mon-Fri) PDT session, 16 trials each of two different 10 sec auditory conditioned stimuli occur. During one stimulus, the CS+, 0.2 ml of 15% ethanol is delivered into a fluid port for oral consumption. The second stimulus, the CS-, is not paired with ethanol. Across sessions, entries into the fluid port during the CS+ increase, whereas entries during the CS- stabilize at a lower level, indicating that a predictive association between the CS+ and ethanol is acquired. During PDT each chamber is equipped with a specific configuration of visual, olfactory and tactile contextual stimuli. Following PDT, extinction training is conducted in the same chamber that is now equipped with a different configuration of contextual stimuli. The CS+ and CS- are presented as before, but ethanol is withheld, which causes a gradual decline in port entries during the CS+. At test, rats are placed back into the PDT context and presented with the CS+ and CS- as before, but without ethanol. This manipulation triggers a robust and selective increase in the number of port entries made during the alcohol predictive CS+, with no change in responding during the CS-. This effect, referred to as context-induced renewal, illustrates the powerful capacity of contexts associated with alcohol consumption to stimulate alcohol-seeking behavior in response to Pavlovian alcohol cues.
Behavior, Issue 91, Behavioral neuroscience, alcoholism, relapse, addiction, Pavlovian conditioning, ethanol, reinstatement, discrimination, conditioned approach
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
The Trier Social Stress Test Protocol for Inducing Psychological Stress
Institutions: Northern Arizona University.
This article demonstrates a psychological stress protocol for use in a laboratory setting. Protocols that allow researchers to study the biological pathways of the stress response in health and disease are fundamental to the progress of research in stress and anxiety.1
Although numerous protocols exist for inducing stress response in the laboratory, many neglect to provide a naturalistic context or to incorporate aspects of social and psychological stress. Of psychological stress protocols, meta-analysis suggests that the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is the most useful and appropriate standardized protocol for studies of stress hormone reactivity.2
In the original description of the TSST, researchers sought to design and evaluate a procedure capable of inducing a reliable stress response in the majority of healthy volunteers.3
These researchers found elevations in heart rate, blood pressure and several endocrine stress markers in response to the TSST (a psychological stressor) compared to a saline injection (a physical stressor).3
Although the TSST has been modified to meet the needs of various research groups, it generally consists of a waiting period upon arrival, anticipatory speech preparation, speech performance, and verbal arithmetic performance periods, followed by one or more recovery periods. The TSST requires participants to prepare and deliver a speech, and verbally respond to a challenging arithmetic problem in the presence of a socially evaluative audience.3
Social evaluation and uncontrollability have been identified as key components of stress induction by the TSST.4
In use for over a decade, the goal of the TSST is to systematically induce a stress response in order to measure differences in reactivity, anxiety and activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) or sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis during the task.1
Researchers generally assess changes in self-reported anxiety, physiological measures (e.g. heart rate), and/or neuroendocrine indices (e.g. the stress hormone cortisol) in response to the TSST. Many investigators have adopted salivary sampling for stress markers such as cortisol and alpha-amylase (a marker of autonomic nervous system activation) as an alternative to blood sampling to reduce the confounding stress of blood-collection techniques. In addition to changes experienced by an individual completing the TSST, researchers can compare changes between different treatment groups (e.g. clinical versus healthy control samples) or the effectiveness of stress-reducing interventions.1
Medicine, Issue 56, Stress, anxiety, laboratory stressor, cortisol, physiological response, psychological stressor
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
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
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
Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Institutions: Alpert Medical School, Brown University, University of Georgia.
Complementary structural and functional neuroimaging techniques used to examine the Default Mode Network (DMN) could potentially improve assessments of psychiatric illness severity and provide added validity to the clinical diagnostic process. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that DMN processes may be disrupted in a number of stress-related psychiatric illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although specific DMN functions remain under investigation, it is generally thought to be involved in introspection and self-processing. In healthy individuals it exhibits greatest activity during periods of rest, with less activity, observed as deactivation, during cognitive tasks, e.g.
, working memory. This network consists of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, lateral parietal cortices and medial temporal regions.
Multiple functional and structural imaging approaches have been developed to study the DMN. These have unprecedented potential to further the understanding of the function and dysfunction of this network. Functional approaches, such as the evaluation of resting state connectivity and task-induced deactivation, have excellent potential to identify targeted neurocognitive and neuroaffective (functional) diagnostic markers and may indicate illness severity and prognosis with increased accuracy or specificity. Structural approaches, such as evaluation of morphometry and connectivity, may provide unique markers of etiology and long-term outcomes. Combined, functional and structural methods provide strong multimodal, complementary and synergistic approaches to develop valid DMN-based imaging phenotypes in stress-related psychiatric conditions. This protocol aims to integrate these methods to investigate DMN structure and function in PTSD, relating findings to illness severity and relevant clinical factors.
Medicine, Issue 89, default mode network, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, structural connectivity, functional connectivity, posttraumatic stress disorder
The Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT): An iPad-Based Disability Assessment Tool
Institutions: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Cleveland Clinic Foundation.
Precise measurement of neurological and neuropsychological impairment and disability in multiple sclerosis is challenging. We report a new test, the Multiple Sclerosis Performance Test (MSPT), which represents a new approach to quantifying MS related disability. The MSPT takes advantage of advances in computer technology, information technology, biomechanics, and clinical measurement science. The resulting MSPT represents a computer-based platform for precise, valid measurement of MS severity. Based on, but extending the Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite (MSFC), the MSPT provides precise, quantitative data on walking speed, balance, manual dexterity, visual function, and cognitive processing speed. The MSPT was tested by 51 MS patients and 49 healthy controls (HC). MSPT scores were highly reproducible, correlated strongly with technician-administered test scores, discriminated MS from HC and severe from mild MS, and correlated with patient reported outcomes. Measures of reliability, sensitivity, and clinical meaning for MSPT scores were favorable compared with technician-based testing. The MSPT is a potentially transformative approach for collecting MS disability outcome data for patient care and research. Because the testing is computer-based, test performance can be analyzed in traditional or novel ways and data can be directly entered into research or clinical databases. The MSPT could be widely disseminated to clinicians in practice settings who are not connected to clinical trial performance sites or who are practicing in rural settings, drastically improving access to clinical trials for clinicians and patients. The MSPT could be adapted to out of clinic settings, like the patient’s home, thereby providing more meaningful real world data. The MSPT represents a new paradigm for neuroperformance testing. This method could have the same transformative effect on clinical care and research in MS as standardized computer-adapted testing has had in the education field, with clear potential to accelerate progress in clinical care and research.
Medicine, Issue 88, Multiple Sclerosis, Multiple Sclerosis Functional Composite, computer-based testing, 25-foot walk test, 9-hole peg test, Symbol Digit Modalities Test, Low Contrast Visual Acuity, Clinical Outcome Measure
Getting to Compliance in Forced Exercise in Rodents: A Critical Standard to Evaluate Exercise Impact in Aging-related Disorders and Disease
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
There is a major increase in the awareness of the positive impact of exercise on improving several disease states with neurobiological basis; these include improving cognitive function and physical performance. As a result, there is an increase in the number of animal studies employing exercise. It is argued that one intrinsic value of forced exercise is that the investigator has control over the factors that can influence the impact of exercise on behavioral outcomes, notably exercise frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise regimen. However, compliance in forced exercise regimens may be an issue, particularly if potential confounds of employing foot-shock are to be avoided. It is also important to consider that since most cognitive and locomotor impairments strike in the aged individual, determining impact of exercise on these impairments should consider using aged rodents with a highest possible level of compliance to ensure minimal need for test subjects. Here, the pertinent steps and considerations necessary to achieve nearly 100% compliance to treadmill exercise in an aged rodent model will be presented and discussed. Notwithstanding the particular exercise regimen being employed by the investigator, our protocol should be of use to investigators that are particularly interested in the potential impact of forced exercise on aging-related impairments, including aging-related Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease.
Behavior, Issue 90, Exercise, locomotor, Parkinson’s disease, aging, treadmill, bradykinesia, Parkinsonism
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
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
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1
. These "friend or foe
" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid
". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2
. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Impairing Effect of Emotion on Cognition
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois, Duke University , Duke University , VA Medical Center, Yale University, University of Illinois, University of Illinois.
Emotions can impact cognition by exerting both enhancing
(e.g., better memory for emotional events) and impairing
(e.g., increased emotional distractibility) effects (reviewed in 1
). Complementing our recent protocol 2
describing a method that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the memory-enhancing effect of emotion (see also 1, 3-5
), here we present a protocol that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotion on cognition. The main feature of this method is that it allows identification of reciprocal modulations between activity in a ventral neural system, involved in 'hot' emotion processing (HotEmo
system), and a dorsal system, involved in higher-level 'cold' cognitive/executive processing (ColdEx
system), which are linked to cognitive performance and to individual variations in behavior (reviewed in 1
). Since its initial introduction 6
, this design has proven particularly versatile and influential in the elucidation of various aspects concerning the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotional distraction on cognition, with a focus on working memory (WM), and of coping with such distraction 7,11
, in both healthy 8-11
and clinical participants 12-14
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Emotion-Cognition Interaction, Cognitive/Emotional Interference, Task-Irrelevant Distraction, Neuroimaging, fMRI, MRI
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Emotion Regulation
Institutions: University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Alberta, Edmonton, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to control/regulate emotions is an important coping mechanism in the face of emotionally stressful situations. Although significant progress has been made in understanding conscious/deliberate emotion regulation (ER), less is known about non-conscious/automatic ER and the associated neural correlates. This is in part due to the problems inherent in the unitary concepts of automatic and conscious processing1
. Here, we present a protocol that allows investigation of the neural correlates of both deliberate and automatic ER using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This protocol allows new avenues of inquiry into various aspects of ER. For instance, the experimental design allows manipulation of the goal to regulate emotion (conscious vs. non-conscious), as well as the intensity of the emotional challenge (high vs. low). Moreover, it allows investigation of both immediate (emotion perception) and long-term effects (emotional memory) of ER strategies on emotion processing. Therefore, this protocol may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of emotion regulation in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in depression and anxiety disorders in which emotion dys
regulation is often among the core debilitating features.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, Emotion Suppression, Automatic Emotion Control, Deliberate Emotion Control, Goal Induction, Neuroimaging
Automated Midline Shift and Intracranial Pressure Estimation based on Brain CT Images
Institutions: Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University Reanimation Engineering Science (VCURES) Center, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Commonwealth University.
In this paper we present an automated system based mainly on the computed tomography (CT) images consisting of two main components: the midline shift estimation and intracranial pressure (ICP) pre-screening system. To estimate the midline shift, first an estimation of the ideal midline is performed based on the symmetry of the skull and anatomical features in the brain CT scan. Then, segmentation of the ventricles from the CT scan is performed and used as a guide for the identification of the actual midline through shape matching. These processes mimic the measuring process by physicians and have shown promising results in the evaluation. In the second component, more features are extracted related to ICP, such as the texture information, blood amount from CT scans and other recorded features, such as age, injury severity score to estimate the ICP are also incorporated. Machine learning techniques including feature selection and classification, such as Support Vector Machines (SVMs), are employed to build the prediction model using RapidMiner. The evaluation of the prediction shows potential usefulness of the model. The estimated ideal midline shift and predicted ICP levels may be used as a fast pre-screening step for physicians to make decisions, so as to recommend for or against invasive ICP monitoring.
Medicine, Issue 74, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Neurobiology, Biophysics, Physiology, Anatomy, Brain CT Image Processing, CT, Midline Shift, Intracranial Pressure Pre-screening, Gaussian Mixture Model, Shape Matching, Machine Learning, traumatic brain injury, TBI, imaging, clinical techniques