We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search
Measuring Frailty in HIV-infected Individuals. Identification of Frail Patients is the First Step to Amelioration and Reversal of Frailty
Institutions: University of Arizona, University of Arizona.
A simple, validated protocol consisting of a battery of tests is available to identify elderly patients with frailty syndrome. This syndrome of decreased reserve and resistance to stressors increases in incidence with increasing age. In the elderly, frailty may pursue a step-wise loss of function from non-frail to pre-frail to frail. We studied frailty in HIV-infected patients and found that ~20% are frail using the Fried phenotype using stringent criteria developed for the elderly1,2
. In HIV infection the syndrome occurs at a younger age.
HIV patients were checked for 1) unintentional weight loss; 2) slowness as determined by walking speed; 3) weakness as measured by a grip dynamometer; 4) exhaustion by responses to a depression scale; and 5) low physical activity was determined by assessing kilocalories expended in a week's time. Pre-frailty was present with any two of five criteria and frailty was present if any three of the five criteria were abnormal.
The tests take approximately 10-15 min to complete and they can be performed by medical assistants during routine clinic visits. Test results are scored by referring to standard tables. Understanding which of the five components contribute to frailty in an individual patient can allow the clinician to address relevant underlying problems, many of which are not evident in routine HIV clinic visits.
Medicine, Issue 77, Infection, Virology, Infectious Diseases, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Retroviridae Infections, Body Weight Changes, Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures, Physical Examination, Muscle Strength, Behavior, Virus Diseases, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Musculoskeletal and Neural Physiological Phenomena, HIV, HIV-1, AIDS, Frailty, Depression, Weight Loss, Weakness, Slowness, Exhaustion, Aging, clinical techniques
Nest Building as an Indicator of Health and Welfare in Laboratory Mice
Institutions: Charles River, Tufts University, Stanford University, Stanford University.
The minimization and alleviation of suffering has moral and scientific implications. In order to mitigate this negative experience one must be able to identify when an animal is actually in distress. Pain, illness, or distress cannot be managed if unrecognized. Evaluation of pain or illness typically involves the measurement of physiologic and behavioral indicators which are either invasive or not suitable for large scale assessment. The observation of nesting behavior shows promise as the basis of a species appropriate cage-side assessment tool for recognizing distress in mice. Here we demonstrate the utility of nest building behavior in laboratory mice as an ethologically relevant indicator of welfare. The methods presented can be successfully used to identify thermal stressors, aggressive cages, sickness, and pain. Observation of nest building behavior in mouse colonies provides a refinement to health and well-being assessment on a day to day basis.
Behavior, Issue 82, Animal Structures, Surgical Procedures, Life Sciences (General), Behavioral Sciences, Mouse, Welfare assessment, Nest building
Investigating the Effects of Probiotics on Pneumococcal Colonization Using an In Vitro Adherence Assay
Institutions: Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, The University of Melbourne, The University of Melbourne.
Adherence of Streptococcus pneumoniae
(the pneumococcus) to the epithelial lining of the nasopharynx can result in colonization and is considered a prerequisite for pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia and otitis media. In vitro
adherence assays can be used to study the attachment of pneumococci to epithelial cell monolayers and to investigate potential interventions, such as the use of probiotics, to inhibit pneumococcal colonization. The protocol described here is used to investigate the effects of the probiotic Streptococcus salivarius
on the adherence of pneumococci to the human epithelial cell line CCL-23 (sometimes referred to as HEp-2 cells). The assay involves three main steps: 1) preparation of epithelial and bacterial cells, 2) addition of bacteria to epithelial cell monolayers, and 3) detection of adherent pneumococci by viable counts (serial dilution and plating) or quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR). This technique is relatively straightforward and does not require specialized equipment other than a tissue culture setup. The assay can be used to test other probiotic species and/or potential inhibitors of pneumococcal colonization and can be easily modified to address other scientific questions regarding pneumococcal adherence and invasion.
Immunology, Issue 86, Gram-Positive Bacterial Infections, Pneumonia, Bacterial, Lung Diseases, Respiratory Tract Infections, Streptococcus pneumoniae, adherence, colonization, probiotics, Streptococcus salivarius, In Vitro assays
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
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
Reduced-gravity Environment Hardware Demonstrations of a Prototype Miniaturized Flow Cytometer and Companion Microfluidic Mixing Technology
Institutions: DNA Medicine Institute, Harvard Medical School, NASA Glenn Research Center, ZIN Technologies.
Until recently, astronaut blood samples were collected in-flight, transported to earth on the Space Shuttle, and analyzed in terrestrial laboratories. If humans are to travel beyond low Earth orbit, a transition towards space-ready, point-of-care (POC) testing is required. Such testing needs to be comprehensive, easy to perform in a reduced-gravity environment, and unaffected by the stresses of launch and spaceflight. Countless POC devices have been developed to mimic laboratory scale counterparts, but most have narrow applications and few have demonstrable use in an in-flight, reduced-gravity environment. In fact, demonstrations of biomedical diagnostics in reduced gravity are limited altogether, making component choice and certain logistical challenges difficult to approach when seeking to test new technology. To help fill the void, we are presenting a modular method for the construction and operation of a prototype blood diagnostic device and its associated parabolic flight test rig that meet the standards for flight-testing onboard a parabolic flight, reduced-gravity aircraft. The method first focuses on rig assembly for in-flight, reduced-gravity testing of a flow cytometer and a companion microfluidic mixing chip. Components are adaptable to other designs and some custom components, such as a microvolume sample loader and the micromixer may be of particular interest. The method then shifts focus to flight preparation, by offering guidelines and suggestions to prepare for a successful flight test with regard to user training, development of a standard operating procedure (SOP), and other issues. Finally, in-flight experimental procedures specific to our demonstrations are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 93, Point-of-care, prototype, diagnostics, spaceflight, reduced gravity, parabolic flight, flow cytometry, fluorescence, cell counting, micromixing, spiral-vortex, blood mixing
Transferring Cognitive Tasks Between Brain Imaging Modalities: Implications for Task Design and Results Interpretation in fMRI Studies
Institutions: Research Centre Jülich GmbH, Research Centre Jülich GmbH.
As cognitive neuroscience methods develop, established experimental tasks are used with emerging brain imaging modalities. Here transferring a paradigm (the visual oddball task) with a long history of behavioral and electroencephalography (EEG) experiments to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiment is considered. The aims of this paper are to briefly describe fMRI and when its use is appropriate in cognitive neuroscience; illustrate how task design can influence the results of an fMRI experiment, particularly when that task is borrowed from another imaging modality; explain the practical aspects of performing an fMRI experiment. It is demonstrated that manipulating the task demands in the visual oddball task results in different patterns of blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) activation. The nature of the fMRI BOLD measure means that many brain regions are found to be active in a particular task. Determining the functions of these areas of activation is very much dependent on task design and analysis. The complex nature of many fMRI tasks means that the details of the task and its requirements need careful consideration when interpreting data. The data show that this is particularly important in those tasks relying on a motor response as well as cognitive elements and that covert and
overt responses should be considered where possible. Furthermore, the data show that transferring an EEG paradigm to an fMRI experiment needs careful consideration and it cannot be assumed that the same paradigm will work equally well across imaging modalities. It is therefore recommended that the design of an fMRI study is pilot tested behaviorally to establish the effects of interest and then pilot tested in the fMRI environment to ensure appropriate design, implementation and analysis for the effects of interest.
Behavior, Issue 91, fMRI, task design, data interpretation, cognitive neuroscience, visual oddball task, target detection
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Mouse Short- and Long-term Locomotor Activity Analyzed by Video Tracking Software
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Locomotor activity (LMA) is a simple and easily performed measurement of behavior in mice and other rodents. Improvements in video tracking software (VTS) have allowed it to be coupled to LMA testing, dramatically improving specificity and sensitivity when compared to the line crossings method with manual scoring. In addition, VTS enables high-throughput experimentation. While similar to automated video tracking used for the open field test (OFT), LMA testing is unique in that it allows mice to remain in their home cage and does not utilize the anxiogenic stimulus of bright lighting during the active phase of the light-dark cycle. Traditionally, LMA has been used for short periods of time (mins), while longer movement studies (hrs-days) have often used implanted transmitters and biotelemetry. With the option of real-time tracking, long-, like short-term LMA testing, can now be conducted using videography. Long-term LMA testing requires a specialized, but easily constructed, cage so that food and water (which is usually positioned on the cage top) does not obstruct videography. Importantly, videography and VTS allows for the quantification of parameters, such as path of mouse movement, that are difficult or unfeasible to measure with line crossing and/or biotelemetry. In sum, LMA testing coupled to VTS affords a more complete description of mouse movement and the ability to examine locomotion over an extended period of time.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Behavior, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Animal, Exploratory Behavior, Behavioral Research, Psychoneuroimmunology, Locomotion, Neuroimmune, high throughput, sickness behavior, noninvasive, video recording, imaging, animal model
Driving Simulation in the Clinic: Testing Visual Exploratory Behavior in Daily Life Activities in Patients with Visual Field Defects
Institutions: Universitätsmedizin Charité, Universitätsmedizin Charité, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
Patients suffering from homonymous hemianopia after infarction of the posterior cerebral artery (PCA) report different degrees of constraint in daily life, despite similar visual deficits. We assume this could be due to variable development of compensatory strategies such as altered visual scanning behavior. Scanning compensatory therapy (SCT) is studied as part of the visual training after infarction next to vision restoration therapy. SCT consists of learning to make larger eye movements into the blind field enlarging the visual field of search, which has been proven to be the most useful strategy1
, not only in natural search tasks but also in mastering daily life activities2
. Nevertheless, in clinical routine it is difficult to identify individual levels and training effects of compensatory behavior, since it requires measurement of eye movements in a head unrestrained condition. Studies demonstrated that unrestrained head movements alter the visual exploratory behavior compared to a head-restrained laboratory condition3
. Martin et al.4
and Hayhoe et al.5
showed that behavior demonstrated in a laboratory setting cannot be assigned easily to a natural condition. Hence, our goal was to develop a study set-up which uncovers different compensatory oculomotor strategies quickly in a realistic testing situation: Patients are tested in the clinical environment in a driving simulator. SILAB software (Wuerzburg Institute for Traffic Sciences GmbH (WIVW)
) was used to program driving scenarios of varying complexity and recording the driver's performance. The software was combined with a head mounted infrared video pupil tracker, recording head- and eye-movements (EyeSeeCam, University of Munich Hospital, Clinical Neurosciences).
The positioning of the patient in the driving simulator and the positioning, adjustment and calibration of the camera is demonstrated. Typical performances of a patient with and without compensatory strategy and a healthy control are illustrated in this pilot study. Different oculomotor behaviors (frequency and amplitude of eye- and head-movements) are evaluated very quickly during the drive itself by dynamic overlay pictures indicating where the subjects gaze is located on the screen, and by analyzing the data. Compensatory gaze behavior in a patient leads to a driving performance comparable to a healthy control, while the performance of a patient without compensatory behavior is significantly worse. The data of eye- and head-movement-behavior as well as driving performance are discussed with respect to different oculomotor strategies and in a broader context with respect to possible training effects throughout the testing session and implications on rehabilitation potential.
Medicine, Issue 67, Neuroscience, Physiology, Anatomy, Ophthalmology, compensatory oculomotor behavior, driving simulation, eye movements, homonymous hemianopia, stroke, visual field defects, visual field enlargement
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
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
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
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.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Diagnosing Pulmonary Tuberculosis with the Xpert MTB/RIF Test
Institutions: University of Bern, MCL Laboratories Inc..
Tuberculosis (TB) due to Mycobacterium tuberculosis
(MTB) remains a major public health issue: the infection affects up to one third of the world population1
, and almost two million people are killed by TB each year.2
Universal access to high-quality, patient-centered treatment for all TB patients is emphasized by WHO's Stop TB Strategy.3
The rapid detection of MTB in respiratory specimens and drug therapy based on reliable drug resistance testing results are a prerequisite for the successful implementation of this strategy. However, in many areas of the world, TB diagnosis still relies on insensitive, poorly standardized sputum microscopy methods. Ineffective TB detection and the emergence and transmission of drug-resistant MTB strains increasingly jeopardize global TB control activities.2
Effective diagnosis of pulmonary TB requires the availability - on a global scale - of standardized, easy-to-use, and robust diagnostic tools that would allow the direct detection of both the MTB complex and resistance to key antibiotics, such as rifampicin (RIF). The latter result can serve as marker for multidrug-resistant MTB (MDR TB) and has been reported in > 95% of the MDR-TB isolates.4, 5
The rapid availability of reliable test results is likely to directly translate into sound patient management decisions that, ultimately, will cure the individual patient and break the chain of TB transmission in the community.2
Cepheid's (Sunnyvale, CA, U.S.A.) Xpert MTB/RIF assay6, 7
meets the demands outlined above in a remarkable manner. It is a nucleic-acids amplification test for 1) the detection of MTB complex DNA in sputum or concentrated sputum sediments; and 2) the detection of RIF resistance-associated mutations of the rpoB
It is designed for use with Cepheid's GeneXpert Dx System that integrates and automates sample processing, nucleic acid amplification, and detection of the target sequences using real-time PCR and reverse transcriptase PCR. The system consists of an instrument, personal computer, barcode scanner, and preloaded software for running tests and viewing the results.9
It employs single-use disposable Xpert MTB/RIF cartridges that hold PCR reagents and host the PCR process. Because the cartridges are self-contained, cross-contamination between samples is eliminated.6
Current nucleic acid amplification methods used to detect MTB are complex, labor-intensive, and technically demanding. The Xpert MTB/RIF assay has the potential to bring standardized, sensitive and very specific diagnostic testing for both TB and drug resistance to universal-access point-of-care settings3
, provided that they will be able to afford it. In order to facilitate access, the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) has negotiated significant price reductions. Current FIND-negotiated prices, along with the list of countries eligible for the discounts, are available on the web.10
Immunology, Issue 62, tuberculosis, drug resistance, rifampicin, rapid diagnosis, Xpert MTB/RIF test
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
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
The Resident-intruder Paradigm: A Standardized Test for Aggression, Violence and Social Stress
Institutions: University Groningen, Radboud University Nijmegen.
This video publication explains in detail the experimental protocol of the resident-intruder paradigm in rats. This test is a standardized method to measure offensive aggression and defensive behavior in a semi natural setting. The most important behavioral elements performed by the resident and the intruder are demonstrated in the video and illustrated using artistic drawings. The use of the resident intruder paradigm for acute and chronic social stress experiments is explained as well. Finally, some brief tests and criteria are presented to distinguish aggression from its more violent and pathological forms.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Basic Protocols, Psychology, offensive aggression, defensive behavior, aggressive behavior, pathological, violence, social stress, rat, Wistar rat, animal model
Comprehensive & Cost Effective Laboratory Monitoring of HIV/AIDS: an African Role Model
Institutions: National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS-SA), University of Witwatersrand, Lightcurve Films.
We present the video about assisting anti-retroviral therapy (ART) by an apt laboratory service - representing a South-African role model for economical large scale diagnostic testing. In the low-income countries inexpensive ART has transformed the prospects for the survival of HIV seropositive patients but there are doubts whether there is a need for the laboratory monitoring of ART and at what costs - in situations when the overall quality of pathology services can still be very low. The appropriate answer is to establish economically sound services with better coordination and stricter internal quality assessment than seen in western countries. This video, photographed at location in the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS-SA) at the Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa, provides such a coordinated scheme expanding the original 2-color CD4-CD45 PanLeucoGating strategy (PLG). Thus the six modules of the video presentation reveal the simplicity of a 4-color flow cytometric assay to combine haematological, immunological and virology-related tests in a single tube. These video modules are: (i) the set-up of instruments; (ii) sample preparations; (iii) testing absolute counts and monitoring quality for each sample by bead-count-rate; (iv) the heamatological CD45 test for white cell counts and differentials; (v) the CD4 counts, and (vi) the activation of CD8+ T cells measured by CD38 display, a viral load related parameter. The potential cost-savings are remarkable. This arrangement is a prime example for the feasibility of performing > 800-1000 tests per day with a stricter quality control than that applied in western laboratories, and also with a transfer of technology to other laboratories within a NHLS-SA network. Expert advisors, laboratory managers and policy makers who carry the duty of making decisions about introducing modern medical technology are frequently not in a position to see the latest technical details as carried out in the large regional laboratories with huge burdens of workload. Hence this video shows details of these new developments.
Immunology, Issue 44, Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV); CD4 lymphocyte count, white cell count, CD45, panleucogating, lymphocyte activation, CD38, HIV viral load, antiretroviral therapy (ART), internal quality control
Reaggregate Thymus Cultures
Institutions: University of Birmingham .
Stromal cells within lymphoid tissues are organized into three-dimensional structures that provide a scaffold that is thought to control the migration and development of haemopoeitic cells. Importantly, the maintenance of this three-dimensional organization appears to be critical for normal stromal cell function, with two-dimensional monolayer cultures often being shown to be capable of supporting only individual fragments of lymphoid tissue function. In the thymus, complex networks of cortical and medullary epithelial cells act as a framework that controls the recruitment, proliferation, differentiation and survival of lymphoid progenitors as they undergo the multi-stage process of intrathymic T-cell development. Understanding the functional role of individual stromal compartments in the thymus is essential in determining how the thymus imposes self/non-self discrimination. Here we describe a technique in which we exploit the plasticity of fetal tissues to re-associate into intact three-dimensional structures in vitro
, following their enzymatic disaggregation. The dissociation of fetal thymus lobes into heterogeneous cellular mixtures, followed by their separation into individual cellular components, is then combined with the in vitro
re-association of these desired cell types into three-dimensional reaggregate structures at defined ratios, thereby providing an opportunity to investigate particular aspects of T-cell development under defined cellular conditions. (This article is based on work first reported Methods in Molecular Biology 2007, Vol. 380 pages 185-196).
Immunology, Issue 18, Springer Protocols, Thymus, 2-dGuo, Thymus Organ Cultures, Immune Tolerance, Positive and Negative Selection, Lymphoid Development