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Pubmed Article
Controlling social stress in virtual reality environments.
PUBLISHED: 01-01-2014
Virtual reality exposure therapy has been proposed as a viable alternative in the treatment of anxiety disorders, including social anxiety disorder. Therapists could benefit from extensive control of anxiety eliciting stimuli during virtual exposure. Two stimuli controls are studied in this study: the social dialogue situation, and the dialogue feedback responses (negative or positive) between a human and a virtual character. In the first study, 16 participants were exposed in three virtual reality scenarios: a neutral virtual world, blind date scenario, and job interview scenario. Results showed a significant difference between the three virtual scenarios in the level of self-reported anxiety and heart rate. In the second study, 24 participants were exposed to a job interview scenario in a virtual environment where the ratio between negative and positive dialogue feedback responses of a virtual character was systematically varied on-the-fly. Results yielded that within a dialogue the more positive dialogue feedback resulted in less self-reported anxiety, lower heart rate, and longer answers, while more negative dialogue feedback of the virtual character resulted in the opposite. The correlations between on the one hand the dialogue stressor ratio and on the other hand the means of SUD score, heart rate and audio length in the eight dialogue conditions showed a strong relationship: r(6)?=?0.91, p?=?0.002; r(6)?=?0.76, p?=?0.028 and r(6)?=?-0.94, p?=?0.001 respectively. Furthermore, more anticipatory anxiety reported before exposure was found to coincide with more self-reported anxiety, and shorter answers during the virtual exposure. These results demonstrate that social dialogues in a virtual environment can be effectively manipulated for therapeutic purposes.
Authors: Erin C. Connors, Lindsay A. Yazzolino, Jaime Sánchez, Lotfi B. Merabet.
Published: 03-27-2013
Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
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Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Authors: Stacy A. Ruse, Vicki G. Davis, Alexandra S. Atkins, K. Ranga R. Krishnan, Kolleen H. Fox, Philip D. Harvey, Richard S.E. Keefe.
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes.  Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements.  Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning.  Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity.  The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
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Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Authors: Daniel E. Bradford, Katherine P. Magruder, Rachel A. Korhumel, John J. Curtin.
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
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Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Authors: Mikhail Kislin, Ekaterina Mugantseva, Dmitry Molotkov, Natalia Kulesskaya, Stanislav Khirug, Ilya Kirilkin, Evgeny Pryazhnikov, Julia Kolikova, Dmytro Toptunov, Mikhail Yuryev, Rashid Giniatullin, Vootele Voikar, Claudio Rivera, Heikki Rauvala, Leonard Khiroug.
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g., learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
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Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Authors: Joe Bathelt, Helen O'Reilly, Michelle de Haan.
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3.  In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis. 
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials 
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Measuring Neural and Behavioral Activity During Ongoing Computerized Social Interactions: An Examination of Event-Related Brain Potentials
Authors: Jason R. Themanson.
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University.
Social exclusion is a complex social phenomenon with powerful negative consequences. Given the impact of social exclusion on mental and emotional health, an understanding of how perceptions of social exclusion develop over the course of a social interaction is important for advancing treatments aimed at lessening the harmful costs of being excluded. To date, most scientific examinations of social exclusion have looked at exclusion after a social interaction has been completed. While this has been very helpful in developing an understanding of what happens to a person following exclusion, it has not helped to clarify the moment-to-moment dynamics of the process of social exclusion. Accordingly, the current protocol was developed to obtain an improved understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of event-related brain activation that are present during social interactions. This protocol allows greater precision and sensitivity in detailing the social processes that lead people to feel as though they have been excluded from a social interaction. Importantly, the current protocol can be adapted to include research projects that vary the nature of exclusionary social interactions by altering how frequently participants are included, how long the periods of exclusion will last in each interaction, and when exclusion will take place during the social interactions. Further, the current protocol can be used to examine variables and constructs beyond those related to social exclusion. This capability to address a variety of applications across psychology by obtaining both neural and behavioral data during ongoing social interactions suggests the present protocol could be at the core of a developing area of scientific inquiry related to social interactions.
Behavior, Issue 93, Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), Social Exclusion, Neuroscience, N2, P3, Cognitive Control
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Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Authors: James J. Jun, André Longtin, Leonard Maler.
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
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Two-photon Calcium Imaging in Mice Navigating a Virtual Reality Environment
Authors: Marcus Leinweber, Pawel Zmarz, Peter Buchmann, Paul Argast, Mark Hübener, Tobias Bonhoeffer, Georg B. Keller.
Institutions: Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology, ETH Zurich.
In recent years, two-photon imaging has become an invaluable tool in neuroscience, as it allows for chronic measurement of the activity of genetically identified cells during behavior1-6. Here we describe methods to perform two-photon imaging in mouse cortex while the animal navigates a virtual reality environment. We focus on the aspects of the experimental procedures that are key to imaging in a behaving animal in a brightly lit virtual environment. The key problems that arise in this experimental setup that we here address are: minimizing brain motion related artifacts, minimizing light leak from the virtual reality projection system, and minimizing laser induced tissue damage. We also provide sample software to control the virtual reality environment and to do pupil tracking. With these procedures and resources it should be possible to convert a conventional two-photon microscope for use in behaving mice.
Behavior, Issue 84, Two-photon imaging, Virtual Reality, mouse behavior, adeno-associated virus, genetically encoded calcium indicators
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Authors: Vanessa LoBue.
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
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Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Authors: Lindsay M. Carini, Christopher A. Murgatroyd, Benjamin C. Nephew.
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
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Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Authors: Marcus Cheetham, Lutz Jancke.
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 (DHL) (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
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The Trier Social Stress Test Protocol for Inducing Psychological Stress
Authors: Melissa A. Birkett.
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
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Haptic/Graphic Rehabilitation: Integrating a Robot into a Virtual Environment Library and Applying it to Stroke Therapy
Authors: Ian Sharp, James Patton, Molly Listenberger, Emily Case.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Recent research that tests interactive devices for prolonged therapy practice has revealed new prospects for robotics combined with graphical and other forms of biofeedback. Previous human-robot interactive systems have required different software commands to be implemented for each robot leading to unnecessary developmental overhead time each time a new system becomes available. For example, when a haptic/graphic virtual reality environment has been coded for one specific robot to provide haptic feedback, that specific robot would not be able to be traded for another robot without recoding the program. However, recent efforts in the open source community have proposed a wrapper class approach that can elicit nearly identical responses regardless of the robot used. The result can lead researchers across the globe to perform similar experiments using shared code. Therefore modular "switching out"of one robot for another would not affect development time. In this paper, we outline the successful creation and implementation of a wrapper class for one robot into the open-source H3DAPI, which integrates the software commands most commonly used by all robots.
Bioengineering, Issue 54, robotics, haptics, virtual reality, wrapper class, rehabilitation robotics, neural engineering, H3DAPI, C++
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Real-time fMRI Biofeedback Targeting the Orbitofrontal Cortex for Contamination Anxiety
Authors: Michelle Hampson, Teodora Stoica, John Saksa, Dustin Scheinost, Maolin Qiu, Jitendra Bhawnani, Christopher Pittenger, Xenophon Papademetris, Todd Constable.
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine .
We present a method for training subjects to control activity in a region of their orbitofrontal cortex associated with contamination anxiety using biofeedback of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rt-fMRI) data. Increased activity of this region is seen in relationship with contamination anxiety both in control subjects1 and in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),2 a relatively common and often debilitating psychiatric disorder involving contamination anxiety. Although many brain regions have been implicated in OCD, abnormality in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is one of the most consistent findings.3, 4 Furthermore, hyperactivity in the OFC has been found to correlate with OCD symptom severity5 and decreases in hyperactivity in this region have been reported to correlate with decreased symptom severity.6 Therefore, the ability to control this brain area may translate into clinical improvements in obsessive-compulsive symptoms including contamination anxiety. Biofeedback of rt-fMRI data is a new technique in which the temporal pattern of activity in a specific region (or associated with a specific distributed pattern of brain activity) in a subject's brain is provided as a feedback signal to the subject. Recent reports indicate that people are able to develop control over the activity of specific brain areas when provided with rt-fMRI biofeedback.7-12 In particular, several studies using this technique to target brain areas involved in emotion processing have reported success in training subjects to control these regions.13-18 In several cases, rt-fMRI biofeedback training has been reported to induce cognitive, emotional, or clinical changes in subjects.8, 9, 13, 19 Here we illustrate this technique as applied to the treatment of contamination anxiety in healthy subjects. This biofeedback intervention will be a valuable basic research tool: it allows researchers to perturb brain function, measure the resulting changes in brain dynamics and relate those to changes in contamination anxiety or other behavioral measures. In addition, the establishment of this method serves as a first step towards the investigation of fMRI-based biofeedback as a therapeutic intervention for OCD. Given that approximately a quarter of patients with OCD receive little benefit from the currently available forms of treatment,20-22 and that those who do benefit rarely recover completely, new approaches for treating this population are urgently needed.
Medicine, Issue 59, Real-time fMRI, rt-fMRI, neurofeedback, biofeedback, orbitofrontal cortex, OFC, obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD, contamination anxiety, resting connectivity
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Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Authors: Keen Sung, Sanda Dolcos, Sophie Flor-Henry, Crystal Zhou, Claudia Gasior, Jennifer Argo, Florin Dolcos.
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
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Human Fear Conditioning Conducted in Full Immersion 3-Dimensional Virtual Reality
Authors: Nicole C. Huff, David J. Zielinski, Matthew E. Fecteau, Rachael Brady, Kevin S. LaBar.
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Fear conditioning is a widely used paradigm in non-human animal research to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety. A major challenge in conducting conditioning studies in humans is the ability to strongly manipulate or simulate the environmental contexts that are associated with conditioned emotional behaviors. In this regard, virtual reality (VR) technology is a promising tool. Yet, adapting this technology to meet experimental constraints requires special accommodations. Here we address the methodological issues involved when conducting fear conditioning in a fully immersive 6-sided VR environment and present fear conditioning data. In the real world, traumatic events occur in complex environments that are made up of many cues, engaging all of our sensory modalities. For example, cues that form the environmental configuration include not only visual elements, but aural, olfactory, and even tactile. In rodent studies of fear conditioning animals are fully immersed in a context that is rich with novel visual, tactile and olfactory cues. However, standard laboratory tests of fear conditioning in humans are typically conducted in a nondescript room in front of a flat or 2D computer screen and do not replicate the complexity of real world experiences. On the other hand, a major limitation of clinical studies aimed at reducing (extinguishing) fear and preventing relapse in anxiety disorders is that treatment occurs after participants have acquired a fear in an uncontrolled and largely unknown context. Thus the experimenters are left without information about the duration of exposure, the true nature of the stimulus, and associated background cues in the environment1. In the absence of this information it can be difficult to truly extinguish a fear that is both cue and context-dependent. Virtual reality environments address these issues by providing the complexity of the real world, and at the same time allowing experimenters to constrain fear conditioning and extinction parameters to yield empirical data that can suggest better treatment options and/or analyze mechanistic hypotheses. In order to test the hypothesis that fear conditioning may be richly encoded and context specific when conducted in a fully immersive environment, we developed distinct virtual reality 3-D contexts in which participants experienced fear conditioning to virtual snakes or spiders. Auditory cues co-occurred with the CS in order to further evoke orienting responses and a feeling of "presence" in subjects 2 . Skin conductance response served as the dependent measure of fear acquisition, memory retention and extinction.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 42, fear conditioning, virtual reality, human memory, skin conductance response, context learning
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In situ Quantification of Pancreatic Beta-cell Mass in Mice
Authors: Abraham Kim, German Kilimnik, Manami Hara.
Institutions: University of Chicago.
Tracing changes of specific cell populations in health and disease is an important goal of biomedical research. The process of monitoring pancreatic beta-cell proliferation and islet growth is particularly challenging. We have developed a method to capture the distribution of beta-cells in the intact pancreas of transgenic mice with fluorescence-tagged beta-cells with a macro written for ImageJ ( Following pancreatic dissection and tissue clearing, the entire pancreas is captured as a virtual slice, after which the GFP-tagged beta-cells are examined. The analysis includes the quantification of total beta-cell area, islet number and size distribution with reference to specific parameters and locations for each islet and for small clusters of beta-cells. The entire distribution of islets can be plotted in three dimensions, and the information from the distribution on the size and shape of each islet allows a quantitative and qualitative comparison of changes in overall beta-cell area at a glance.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, beta-cells, islets, mouse, pancreas
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The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Authors: Claudia Repetto, Alessandra Gorini, Cinzia Vigna, Davide Algeri, Federica Pallavicini, Giuseppe Riva.
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology
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Making MR Imaging Child's Play - Pediatric Neuroimaging Protocol, Guidelines and Procedure
Authors: Nora M. Raschle, Michelle Lee, Roman Buechler, Joanna A. Christodoulou, Maria Chang, Monica Vakil, Patrice L. Stering, Nadine Gaab.
Institutions: Children’s Hospital Boston, University of Zurich, Harvard, Harvard Medical School.
Within the last decade there has been an increase in the use of structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate the neural basis of human perception, cognition and behavior 1, 2. Moreover, this non-invasive imaging method has grown into a tool for clinicians and researchers to explore typical and atypical brain development. Although advances in neuroimaging tools and techniques are apparent, (f)MRI in young pediatric populations remains relatively infrequent 2. Practical as well as technical challenges when imaging children present clinicians and research teams with a unique set of problems 3, 2. To name just a few, the child participants are challenged by a need for motivation, alertness and cooperation. Anxiety may be an additional factor to be addressed. Researchers or clinicians need to consider time constraints, movement restriction, scanner background noise and unfamiliarity with the MR scanner environment2,4-10. A progressive use of functional and structural neuroimaging in younger age groups, however, could further add to our understanding of brain development. As an example, several research groups are currently working towards early detection of developmental disorders, potentially even before children present associated behavioral characteristics e.g.11. Various strategies and techniques have been reported as a means to ensure comfort and cooperation of young children during neuroimaging sessions. Play therapy 12, behavioral approaches 13, 14,15, 16-18 and simulation 19, the use of mock scanner areas 20,21, basic relaxation 22 and a combination of these techniques 23 have all been shown to improve the participant's compliance and thus MRI data quality. Even more importantly, these strategies have proven to increase the comfort of families and children involved 12. One of the main advances of such techniques for the clinical practice is the possibility of avoiding sedation or general anesthesia (GA) as a way to manage children's compliance during MR imaging sessions 19,20. In the current video report, we present a pediatric neuroimaging protocol with guidelines and procedures that have proven to be successful to date in young children.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, fMRI, imaging, development, children, pediatric neuroimaging, cognitive development, magnetic resonance imaging, pediatric imaging protocol, patient preparation, mock scanner
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