Play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content of play following an experimental treatment.
30 Related JoVE Articles!
Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Quantification of Social Behavior in Adult Rats
Institutions: University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico, University of Lethbridge.
Alterations in social behavior are among the major negative consequences observed in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Several independent laboratories have demonstrated robust alterations in the social behavior of rodents exposed to alcohol during brain development across a wide range of exposure durations, timing, doses, and ages at the time of behavioral quantification. Prior work from this laboratory has identified reliable alterations in specific forms of social interaction following moderate prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) in the rat that persist well into adulthood, including increased wrestling and decreased investigation. These behavioral alterations have been useful in identifying neural circuits altered by moderate PAE1
, and may hold importance for progressing toward a more complete understanding of the neural bases of PAE-related alterations in social behavior. This paper describes procedures for performing moderate PAE in which rat dams voluntarily consume ethanol or saccharin (control) throughout gestation, and measurement of social behaviors in adult offspring.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, Aggression, Alcohol Teratogenesis, Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorders, ARND, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, FASD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS, Social interaction
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Using Fluorescent Proteins to Monitor Glycosome Dynamics in the African Trypanosome
Institutions: Clemson University Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center.
is a kinetoplastid parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), or sleeping sickness, and a wasting disease, nagana, in cattle1
. The parasite alternates between the bloodstream of the mammalian host and the tsetse fly vector. The composition of many cellular organelles changes in response to these different extracellular conditions2-5
Glycosomes are highly specialized peroxisomes in which many of the enzymes involved in glycolysis are compartmentalized. Glycosome composition changes in a developmental and environmentally regulated manner4-11
. Currently, the most common techniques used to study glycosome dynamics are electron and fluorescence microscopy; techniques that are expensive, time and labor intensive, and not easily adapted to high throughput analyses.
To overcome these limitations, a fluorescent-glycosome reporter system in which enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (eYFP) is fused to a peroxisome targeting sequence (PTS2), which directs the fusion protein to glycosomes12
, has been established. Upon import of the PTS2eYFP fusion protein, glycosomes become fluorescent. Organelle degradation and recycling results in the loss of fluorescence that can be measured by flow cytometry. Large numbers of cells (5,000 cells/sec) can be analyzed in real-time without extensive sample preparation such as fixation and mounting. This method offers a rapid way of detecting changes in organelle composition in response to fluctuating environmental conditions.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, glycosomes, trypanosomes, flow cytometry, kinetoplastids, fluorescent protein, peroxisomes
Multimodal Optical Microscopy Methods Reveal Polyp Tissue Morphology and Structure in Caribbean Reef Building Corals
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
An integrated suite of imaging techniques has been applied to determine the three-dimensional (3D) morphology and cellular structure of polyp tissues comprising the Caribbean reef building corals Montastraeaannularis
and M. faveolata
. These approaches include fluorescence microscopy (FM), serial block face imaging (SBFI), and two-photon confocal laser scanning microscopy (TPLSM). SBFI provides deep tissue imaging after physical sectioning; it details the tissue surface texture and 3D visualization to tissue depths of more than 2 mm. Complementary FM and TPLSM yield ultra-high resolution images of tissue cellular structure. Results have: (1) identified previously unreported lobate tissue morphologies on the outer wall of individual coral polyps and (2) created the first surface maps of the 3D distribution and tissue density of chromatophores and algae-like dinoflagellate zooxanthellae
endosymbionts. Spectral absorption peaks of 500 nm and 675 nm, respectively, suggest that M. annularis
and M. faveolata
contain similar types of chlorophyll and chromatophores. However, M. annularis
and M. faveolata
exhibit significant differences in the tissue density and 3D distribution of these key cellular components. This study focusing on imaging methods indicates that SBFI is extremely useful for analysis of large mm-scale samples of decalcified coral tissues. Complimentary FM and TPLSM reveal subtle submillimeter scale changes in cellular distribution and density in nondecalcified coral tissue samples. The TPLSM technique affords: (1) minimally invasive sample preparation, (2) superior optical sectioning ability, and (3) minimal light absorption and scattering, while still permitting deep tissue imaging.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 91, Serial block face imaging, two-photon fluorescence microscopy, Montastraea annularis, Montastraea faveolata, 3D coral tissue morphology and structure, zooxanthellae, chromatophore, autofluorescence, light harvesting optimization, environmental change
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
A Multi-Modal Approach to Assessing Recovery in Youth Athletes Following Concussion
Institutions: Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Concussion is one of the most commonly reported injuries amongst children and youth involved in sport participation. Following a concussion, youth can experience a range of short and long term neurobehavioral symptoms (somatic, cognitive and emotional/behavioral) that can have a significant impact on one’s participation in daily activities and pursuits of interest (e.g.,
school, sports, work, family/social life, etc.
). Despite this, there remains a paucity in clinically driven research aimed specifically at exploring concussion within the youth sport population, and more specifically, multi-modal approaches to measuring recovery. This article provides an overview of a novel and multi-modal approach to measuring recovery amongst youth athletes following concussion. The presented approach involves the use of both pre-injury/baseline testing and post-injury/follow-up testing to assess performance across a wide variety of domains (post-concussion symptoms, cognition, balance, strength, agility/motor skills and resting state heart rate variability). The goal of this research is to gain a more objective and accurate understanding of recovery following concussion in youth athletes (ages 10-18 years). Findings from this research can help to inform the development and use of improved approaches to concussion management and rehabilitation specific to the youth sport community.
Medicine, Issue 91, concussion, children, youth, athletes, assessment, management, rehabilitation
Vision Training Methods for Sports Concussion Mitigation and Management
Institutions: University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
There is emerging evidence supporting the use vision training, including light board training tools, as a concussion baseline and neuro-diagnostic tool and potentially as a supportive component to concussion prevention strategies. This paper is focused on providing detailed methods for select vision training tools and reporting normative data for comparison when vision training is a part of a sports management program. The overall program includes standard vision training methods including tachistoscope, Brock’s string, and strobe glasses, as well as specialized light board training algorithms. Stereopsis is measured as a means to monitor vision training affects. In addition, quantitative results for vision training methods as well as baseline and post-testing *A and Reaction Test measures with progressive scores are reported. Collegiate athletes consistently improve after six weeks of training in their stereopsis, *A and Reaction Test scores. When vision training is initiated as a team wide exercise, the incidence of concussion decreases in players who participate in training compared to players who do not receive the vision training. Vision training produces functional and performance changes that, when monitored, can be used to assess the success of the vision training and can be initiated as part of a sports medical intervention for concussion prevention.
Behavior, Issue 99, Vision training, peripheral vision, functional peripheral vision, concussion, concussion management, diagnosis, rehabilitation, eyes, sight, seeing, sight
Design and Implementation of an fMRI Study Examining Thought Suppression in Young Women with, and At-risk, for Depression
Institutions: McMaster University, McMaster University, University of Calgary, McMaster University.
Ruminative brooding is associated with increased vulnerability to major depression. Individuals who regularly ruminate will often try to reduce the frequency of their negative thoughts by actively suppressing them. We aim to identify the neural correlates underlying thought suppression in at-risk and depressed individuals. Three groups of women were studied; a major depressive disorder group, an at-risk group (having a first degree relative with depression) and controls. Participants performed a mixed block-event fMRI paradigm involving thought suppression, free thought and motor control periods. Participants identified the re-emergence of “to-be-suppressed” thoughts (“popping” back into conscious awareness) with a button press. During thought suppression the control group showed the greatest activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, followed by the at-risk, then depressed group. During the re-emergence of intrusive thoughts compared to successful re-suppression of those thoughts, the control group showed the greatest activation of the anterior cingulate cortices, followed by the at-risk, then depressed group. At-risk participants displayed anomalies in the neural regulation of thought suppression resembling the dysregulation found in depressed individuals. The predictive value of these changes in the onset of depression remains to be determined.
Behavior, Issue 99, Major Depressive Disorder, Risk, Thought Suppression, fMRI, Women, Rumination, Thought Intrusion
Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
Adapting Human Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study Methods to Detect and Characterize Dysphagia in Murine Disease Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, University of Missouri, University of Missouri.
This study adapted human videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) methods for use with murine disease models for the purpose of facilitating translational dysphagia research. Successful outcomes are dependent upon three critical components: test chambers that permit self-feeding while standing unrestrained in a confined space, recipes that mask the aversive taste/odor of commercially-available oral contrast agents, and a step-by-step test protocol that permits quantification of swallow physiology. Elimination of one or more of these components will have a detrimental impact on the study results. Moreover, the energy level capability of the fluoroscopy system will determine which swallow parameters can be investigated. Most research centers have high energy fluoroscopes designed for use with people and larger animals, which results in exceptionally poor image quality when testing mice and other small rodents. Despite this limitation, we have identified seven VFSS parameters that are consistently quantifiable in mice when using a high energy fluoroscope in combination with the new murine VFSS protocol. We recently obtained a low energy fluoroscopy system with exceptionally high imaging resolution and magnification capabilities that was designed for use with mice and other small rodents. Preliminary work using this new system, in combination with the new murine VFSS protocol, has identified 13 swallow parameters that are consistently quantifiable in mice, which is nearly double the number obtained using conventional (i.e.,
high energy) fluoroscopes. Identification of additional swallow parameters is expected as we optimize the capabilities of this new system. Results thus far demonstrate the utility of using a low energy fluoroscopy system to detect and quantify subtle changes in swallow physiology that may otherwise be overlooked when using high energy fluoroscopes to investigate murine disease models.
Medicine, Issue 97, mouse, murine, rodent, swallowing, deglutition, dysphagia, videofluoroscopy, radiation, iohexol, barium, palatability, taste, translational, disease models
Mindfulness in Motion (MIM): An Onsite Mindfulness Based Intervention (MBI) for Chronically High Stress Work Environments to Increase Resiliency and Work Engagement
Institutions: The Ohio State University College of Medicine, Wexner Medical Center, The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
A pragmatic mindfulness intervention to benefit personnel working in chronically high-stress environments, delivered onsite during the workday, is timely and valuable to employee and employer alike. Mindfulness in Motion (MIM) is a Mindfulness Based Intervention (MBI) offered as a modified, less time intensive method (compared to Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), delivered onsite, during work, and intends to enable busy working adults to experience the benefits of mindfulness. It teaches mindful awareness principles, rehearses mindfulness as a group, emphasizes the use of gentle yoga stretches, and utilizes relaxing music in the background of both the group sessions and individual mindfulness practice. MIM is delivered in a group format, for 1 hr/week/8 weeks. CDs and a DVD are provided to facilitate individual practice. The yoga movement is emphasized in the protocol to facilitate a quieting of the mind. The music is included for participants to associate the relaxed state experienced in the group session with their individual practice. To determine the intervention feasibility/efficacy we conducted a randomized wait-list control group in Intensive Care Units (ICUs). ICUs represent a high-stress work environment where personnel experience chronic exposure to catastrophic situations as they care for seriously injured/ill patients. Despite high levels of work-related stress, few interventions have been developed and delivered onsite for such environments. The intervention is delivered on site in the ICU, during work hours, with participants receiving time release to attend sessions. The intervention is well received with 97% retention rate. Work engagement and resiliency increase significantly in the intervention group, compared to the wait-list control group, while participant respiration rates decrease significantly pre-post in 6/8 of the weekly sessions. Participants value institutional support, relaxing music, and the instructor as pivotal to program success. This provides evidence that MIM is feasible, well accepted, and can be effectively implemented in a chronically high-stress work environment.
Behavior, Issue 101, Mindfulness, resiliency, work-engagement, stress-reduction, workplace, non-reactivity, Intensive-care, chronic stress, work environment
A Fish-feeding Laboratory Bioassay to Assess the Antipredatory Activity of Secondary Metabolites from the Tissues of Marine Organisms
Institutions: University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Marine chemical ecology is a young discipline, having emerged from the collaboration of natural products chemists and marine ecologists in the 1980s with the goal of examining the ecological functions of secondary metabolites from the tissues of marine organisms. The result has been a progression of protocols that have increasingly refined the ecological relevance of the experimental approach. Here we present the most up-to-date version of a fish-feeding laboratory bioassay that enables investigators to assess the antipredatory activity of secondary metabolites from the tissues of marine organisms. Organic metabolites of all polarities are exhaustively extracted from the tissue of the target organism and reconstituted at natural concentrations in a nutritionally appropriate food matrix. Experimental food pellets are presented to a generalist predator in laboratory feeding assays to assess the antipredatory activity of the extract. The procedure described herein uses the bluehead, Thalassoma bifasciatum
, to test the palatability of Caribbean marine invertebrates; however, the design may be readily adapted to other systems. Results obtained using this laboratory assay are an important prelude to field experiments that rely on the feeding responses of a full complement of potential predators. Additionally, this bioassay can be used to direct the isolation of feeding-deterrent metabolites through bioassay-guided fractionation. This feeding bioassay has advanced our understanding of the factors that control the distribution and abundance of marine invertebrates on Caribbean coral reefs and may inform investigations in diverse fields of inquiry, including pharmacology, biotechnology, and evolutionary ecology.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 95, Marine chemical ecology, predation, chemical defense, bioassay, secondary metabolites, fish, invertebrates
Chitosan/Interfering RNA Nanoparticle Mediated Gene Silencing in Disease Vector Mosquito Larvae
Institutions: Kansas State University, Indiana University School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame, Kansas State University.
Vector mosquitoes inflict more human suffering than any other organism—
and kill more than one million people each year. The mosquito genome projects facilitated research in new facets of mosquito biology, including functional genetic studies in the primary African malaria vector Anopheles gambiae
and the dengue and yellow fever vector Aedes aegypti
. RNA interference- (RNAi-) mediated gene silencing has been used to target genes of interest in both of these disease vector mosquito species. Here, we describe a procedure for preparation of chitosan/interfering RNA nanoparticles that are combined with food and ingested by larvae. This technically straightforward, high-throughput, and relatively inexpensive methodology, which is compatible with long double stranded RNA (dsRNA) or small interfering RNA (siRNA) molecules, has been used for the successful knockdown of a number of different genes in A. gambiae
and A. aegypti
Following larval feedings, knockdown, which is verified through qRT-PCR or in situ
can persist at least through the late pupal stage. This methodology may be applicable to a wide variety of mosquito and other insect species, including agricultural pests, as well as other non-model organisms. In addition to its utility in the research laboratory, in the future, chitosan, an inexpensive, non-toxic and biodegradable polymer, could potentially be utilized in the field.
Molecular Biology, Issue 97, vector biology, RNA interference, Anopheles gambiae, Aedes aegypti, dsRNA, siRNA, knockdown, ingestion, mosquito, larvae, development, disease
Transient Expression of Proteins by Hydrodynamic Gene Delivery in Mice
Institutions: Hunter College, CUNY.
Efficient expression of transgenes in vivo
is of critical importance in studying gene function and developing treatments for diseases. Over the past years, hydrodynamic gene delivery (HGD) has emerged as a simple, fast, safe and effective method for delivering transgenes into rodents. This technique relies on the force generated by the rapid injection of a large volume of physiological solution to increase the permeability of cell membranes of perfused organs and thus deliver DNA into cells. One of the main advantages of HGD is the ability to introduce transgenes into mammalian cells using naked plasmid DNA (pDNA). Introducing an exogenous gene using a plasmid is minimally laborious, highly efficient and, contrary to viral carriers, remarkably safe. HGD was initially used to deliver genes into mice, it is now used to deliver a wide range of substances, including oligonucleotides, artificial chromosomes, RNA, proteins and small molecules into mice, rats and, to a limited degree, other animals. This protocol describes HGD in mice and focuses on three key aspects of the method that are critical to performing the procedure successfully: correct insertion of the needle into the vein, the volume of injection and the speed of delivery. Examples are given to show the application of this method to the transient expression of two genes that encode secreted, primate-specific proteins, apolipoprotein L-I (APOL-I) and haptoglobin-related protein (HPR).
Genetics, Issue 87, hydrodynamic gene delivery, hydrodynamics-based transfection, mouse, gene therapy, plasmid DNA, transient gene expression, tail vein injection
High Throughput Quantitative Expression Screening and Purification Applied to Recombinant Disulfide-rich Venom Proteins Produced in E. coli
Institutions: Aix-Marseille Université, Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives (CEA) Saclay, France.
Escherichia coli (E. coli)
is the most widely used expression system for the production of recombinant proteins for structural and functional studies. However, purifying proteins is sometimes challenging since many proteins are expressed in an insoluble form. When working with difficult or multiple targets it is therefore recommended to use high throughput (HTP) protein expression screening on a small scale (1-4 ml cultures) to quickly identify conditions for soluble expression. To cope with the various structural genomics programs of the lab, a quantitative (within a range of 0.1-100 mg/L culture of recombinant protein) and HTP protein expression screening protocol was implemented and validated on thousands of proteins. The protocols were automated with the use of a liquid handling robot but can also be performed manually without specialized equipment.
Disulfide-rich venom proteins are gaining increasing recognition for their potential as therapeutic drug leads. They can be highly potent and selective, but their complex disulfide bond networks make them challenging to produce. As a member of the FP7 European Venomics project (www.venomics.eu), our challenge is to develop successful production strategies with the aim of producing thousands of novel venom proteins for functional characterization. Aided by the redox properties of disulfide bond isomerase DsbC, we adapted our HTP production pipeline for the expression of oxidized, functional venom peptides in the E. coli
cytoplasm. The protocols are also applicable to the production of diverse disulfide-rich proteins. Here we demonstrate our pipeline applied to the production of animal venom proteins. With the protocols described herein it is likely that soluble disulfide-rich proteins will be obtained in as little as a week. Even from a small scale, there is the potential to use the purified proteins for validating the oxidation state by mass spectrometry, for characterization in pilot studies, or for sensitive micro-assays.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, E. coli, expression, recombinant, high throughput (HTP), purification, auto-induction, immobilized metal affinity chromatography (IMAC), tobacco etch virus protease (TEV) cleavage, disulfide bond isomerase C (DsbC) fusion, disulfide bonds, animal venom proteins/peptides
An Experimental Paradigm for the Prediction of Post-Operative Pain (PPOP)
Institutions: University of Washington School of Medicine.
Many women undergo cesarean delivery without problems, however some experience significant pain after cesarean section. Pain is associated with negative short-term and long-term effects on the mother. Prior to women undergoing surgery, can we predict who is at risk for developing significant postoperative pain and potentially prevent or minimize its negative consequences? These are the fundamental questions that a team from the University of Washington, Stanford University, the Catholic University in Brussels, Belgium, Santa Joana Women's Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil, and Rambam Medical Center in Israel is currently evaluating in an international research collaboration. The ultimate goal of this project is to provide optimal pain relief during and after cesarean section by offering individualized anesthetic care to women who appear to be more 'susceptible' to pain after surgery.
A significant number of women experience moderate or severe acute post-partum pain after vaginal and cesarean deliveries. 1
Furthermore, 10-15% of women suffer chronic persistent pain after cesarean section. 2
With constant increase in cesarean rates in the US 3
and the already high rate in Brazil, this is bound to create a significant public health problem. When questioning women's fears and expectations from cesarean section, pain during and after it is their greatest concern. 4
Individual variability in severity of pain after vaginal or operative delivery is influenced by multiple factors including sensitivity to pain, psychological factors, age, and genetics. The unique birth experience leads to unpredictable requirements for analgesics, from 'none at all' to 'very high' doses of pain medication. Pain after cesarean section is an excellent model to study post-operative pain because it is performed on otherwise young and healthy women. Therefore, it is recommended to attenuate the pain during the acute phase because this may lead to chronic pain disorders. The impact of developing persistent pain is immense, since it may impair not only the ability of women to care for their child in the immediate postpartum period, but also their own well being for a long period of time.
In a series of projects, an international research network is currently investigating the effect of pregnancy on pain modulation and ways to predict who will suffer acute severe pain and potentially chronic pain, by using simple pain tests and questionnaires in combination with genetic analysis. A relatively recent approach to investigate pain modulation is via the psychophysical measure of Diffuse Noxious Inhibitory Control (DNIC). This pain-modulating process is the neurophysiological basis for the well-known phenomenon of 'pain inhibits pain' from remote areas of the body. The DNIC paradigm has evolved recently into a clinical tool and simple test and has been shown to be a predictor of post-operative pain.5
Since pregnancy is associated with decreased pain sensitivity and/or enhanced processes of pain modulation, using tests that investigate pain modulation should provide a better understanding of the pathways involved with pregnancy-induced analgesia and may help predict pain outcomes during labor and delivery. For those women delivering by cesarean section, a DNIC test performed prior to surgery along with psychosocial questionnaires and genetic tests should enable one to identify women prone to suffer severe post-cesarean pain and persistent pain. These clinical tests should allow anesthesiologists to offer not only personalized medicine to women with the promise to improve well-being and satisfaction, but also a reduction in the overall cost of perioperative and long term care due to pain and suffering. On a larger scale, these tests that explore pain modulation may become bedside screening tests to predict the development of pain disorders following surgery.
JoVE Medicine, Issue 35, diffuse noxious inhibitory control, DNIC, temporal summation, TS, psychophysical testing, endogenous analgesia, pain modulation, pregnancy-induced analgesia, cesarean section, post-operative pain, prediction
A Contusive Model of Unilateral Cervical Spinal Cord Injury Using the Infinite Horizon Impactor
Institutions: University of British Columbia , University of British Columbia .
While the majority of human spinal cord injuries occur in the cervical spinal cord, the vast majority of laboratory research employs animal models of spinal cord injury (SCI) in which the thoracic spinal cord is injured. Additionally, because most human cord injuries occur as the result of blunt, non-penetrating trauma (e.g. motor vehicle accident, sporting injury) where the spinal cord is violently struck by displaced bone or soft tissues, the majority of SCI researchers are of the opinion that the most clinically relevant injury models are those in which the spinal cord is rapidly contused.1
Therefore, an important step in the preclinical evaluation of novel treatments on their way to human translation is an assessment of their efficacy in a model of contusion SCI within the cervical spinal cord. Here, we describe the technical aspects and resultant anatomical and behavioral outcomes of an unilateral contusive model of cervical SCI that employs the Infinite Horizon spinal cord injury impactor.
Sprague Dawley rats underwent a left-sided unilateral laminectomy at C5. To optimize the reproducibility of the biomechanical, functional, and histological outcomes of the injury model, we contused the spinal cords using an impact force of 150 kdyn, an impact trajectory of 22.5° (animals rotated at 22.5°), and an impact location off of midline of 1.4 mm. Functional recovery was assessed using the cylinder rearing test, horizontal ladder test, grooming test and modified Montoya's staircase test for up to 6 weeks, after which the spinal cords were evaluated histologically for white and grey matter sparing.
The injury model presented here imparts consistent and reproducible biomechanical forces to the spinal cord, an important feature of any experimental SCI model. This results in discrete histological damage to the lateral half of the spinal cord which is largely contained to the ipsilateral side of injury. The injury is well tolerated by the animals, but does result in functional deficits of the forelimb that are significant and sustained in the weeks following injury. The cervical unilateral injury model presented here may be a resource to researchers who wish to evaluate potentially promising therapies prior to human translation.
Medicine, Issue 65, Neuroscience, Physiology, Infinite Horizon Spinal Cord Injury Device, SCI, cervical, unilateral, contusion, forelimb function
Assessment and Evaluation of the High Risk Neonate: The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale
Institutions: Brown University, Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
There has been a long-standing interest in the assessment of the neurobehavioral integrity of the newborn infant. The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) was developed as an assessment for the at-risk infant. These are infants who are at increased risk for poor developmental outcome because of insults during prenatal development, such as substance exposure or prematurity or factors such as poverty, poor nutrition or lack of prenatal care that can have adverse effects on the intrauterine environment and affect the developing fetus. The NNNS assesses the full range of infant neurobehavioral performance including neurological integrity, behavioral functioning, and signs of stress/abstinence. The NNNS is a noninvasive neonatal assessment tool with demonstrated validity as a predictor, not only of medical outcomes such as cerebral palsy diagnosis, neurological abnormalities, and diseases with risks to the brain, but also of developmental outcomes such as mental and motor functioning, behavior problems, school readiness, and IQ. The NNNS can identify infants at high risk for abnormal developmental outcome and is an important clinical tool that enables medical researchers and health practitioners to identify these infants and develop intervention programs to optimize the development of these infants as early as possible. The video shows the NNNS procedures, shows examples of normal and abnormal performance and the various clinical populations in which the exam can be used.
Behavior, Issue 90, NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, NNNS, High risk infant, Assessment, Evaluation, Prediction, Long term outcome
A Simple Protocol for Platelet-mediated Clumping of Plasmodium falciparum-infected Erythrocytes in a Resource Poor Setting
Institutions: Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, New York University School of Medicine.
causes the majority of severe malarial infections. The pathophysiological mechanisms underlying cerebral malaria (CM) are not fully understood and several hypotheses have been put forward, including mechanical obstruction of microvessels by P. falciparum
-parasitized red blood cells (pRBC). Indeed, during the intra-erythrocytic stage of its life cycle, P. falciparum
has the unique ability to modify the surface of the infected erythrocyte by exporting surface antigens with varying adhesive properties onto the RBC membrane. This allows the sequestration of pRBC in multiple tissues and organs by adhesion to endothelial cells lining the microvasculature of post-capillary venules 1
. By doing so, the mature forms of the parasite avoid splenic clearance of the deformed infected erythrocytes 2
and restrict their environment to a more favorable low oxygen pressure 3
. As a consequence of this sequestration, it is only immature asexual parasites and gametocytes that can be detected in peripheral blood.
Cytoadherence and sequestration of mature pRBC to the numerous host receptors expressed on microvascular beds occurs in severe and uncomplicated disease. However, several lines of evidence suggest that only specific adhesive phenotypes are likely to be associated with severe pathological outcomes of malaria. One example of such specific host-parasite interactions has been demonstrated in vitro
, where the ability of intercellular adhesion molecule-1 to support binding of pRBC with particular adhesive properties has been linked to development of cerebral malaria 4,5
. The placenta has also been recognized as a site of preferential pRBC accumulation in malaria-infected pregnant women, with chondrotin sulphate A expressed on syncytiotrophoblasts that line the placental intervillous space as the main receptor 6
. Rosetting of pRBC to uninfected erythrocytes via the complement receptor 1 (CD35)7,8
has also been associated with severe disease 9
One of the most recently described P. falciparum
cytoadherence phenotypes is the ability of the pRBC to form platelet-mediated clumps in vitro
. The formation of such pRBC clumps requires CD36, a glycoprotein expressed on the surface of platelets. Another human receptor, gC1qR/HABP1/p32, expressed on diverse cell types including endothelial cells and platelets, has also been shown to facilitate pRBC adhesion on platelets to form clumps 10
. Whether clumping occurs in vivo
remains unclear, but it may account for the significant accumulation of platelets described in brain microvasculature of Malawian children who died from CM 11
. In addition, the ability of clinical isolate cultures to clump in vitro
was directly linked to the severity of disease in Malawian 12
and Mozambican patients 13
, (although not in Malian 14
With several aspects of the pRBC clumping phenotype poorly characterized, current studies on this subject have not followed a standardized procedure. This is an important issue because of the known high variability inherent in the assay 15
. Here, we present a method for in vitro
platelet-mediated clumping of P. falciparum
with hopes that it will provide a platform for a consistent method for other groups and raise awareness of the limitations in investigating this phenotype in future studies. Being based in Malawi, we provide a protocol specifically designed for a limited resource setting, with the advantage that freshly collected clinical isolates can be examined for phenotype without need for cryopreservation.
Infection, Issue 75, Infectious Diseases, Immunology, Medicine, Microbiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Parasitology, Clumping, platelets, Plasmodium falciparum, CD36, malaria, malarial infections, parasites, red blood cells, plasma, limited resources, clinical techniques, assay
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
A Microplate Assay to Assess Chemical Effects on RBL-2H3 Mast Cell Degranulation: Effects of Triclosan without Use of an Organic Solvent
Institutions: University of Maine, Orono, University of Maine, Orono.
Mast cells play important roles in allergic disease and immune defense against parasites. Once activated (e.g.
by an allergen), they degranulate, a process that results in the exocytosis of allergic mediators. Modulation of mast cell degranulation by drugs and toxicants may have positive or adverse effects on human health. Mast cell function has been dissected in detail with the use of rat basophilic leukemia mast cells (RBL-2H3), a widely accepted model of human mucosal mast cells3-5
. Mast cell granule component and the allergic mediator β-hexosaminidase, which is released linearly in tandem with histamine from mast cells6
, can easily and reliably be measured through reaction with a fluorogenic substrate, yielding measurable fluorescence intensity in a microplate assay that is amenable to high-throughput studies1
. Originally published by Naal et al.1
, we have adapted this degranulation assay for the screening of drugs and toxicants and demonstrate its use here.
Triclosan is a broad-spectrum antibacterial agent that is present in many consumer products and has been found to be a therapeutic aid in human allergic skin disease7-11
, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. Here we demonstrate an assay for the effect of triclosan on mast cell degranulation. We recently showed that triclosan strongly affects mast cell function2
. In an effort to avoid use of an organic solvent, triclosan is dissolved directly into aqueous buffer with heat and stirring, and resultant concentration is confirmed using UV-Vis spectrophotometry (using ε280
= 4,200 L/M/cm)12
. This protocol has the potential to be used with a variety of chemicals to determine their effects on mast cell degranulation, and more broadly, their allergic potential.
Immunology, Issue 81, mast cell, basophil, degranulation, RBL-2H3, triclosan, irgasan, antibacterial, β-hexosaminidase, allergy, Asthma, toxicants, ionophore, antigen, fluorescence, microplate, UV-Vis
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
Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes. Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements. Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning. Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity. The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
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
Using Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) to Develop Diagnostic Tools
Institutions: Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Cellular Biology, Issue 8, microfluidics, diagnostics, capture, blood, HIV, bioengineering
Using Visual and Narrative Methods to Achieve Fair Process in Clinical Care
Institutions: Brandeis University, Brandeis University.
The Institute of Medicine has targeted patient-centeredness as an important area of quality improvement. A major dimension of patient-centeredness is respect for patient's values, preferences, and expressed needs. Yet specific approaches to gaining this understanding and translating it to quality care in the clinical setting are lacking. From a patient perspective quality is not a simple concept but is best understood in terms of five dimensions: technical outcomes; decision-making efficiency; amenities and convenience; information and emotional support; and overall patient satisfaction. Failure to consider quality from this five-pronged perspective results in a focus on medical outcomes, without considering the processes central to quality from the patient's perspective and vital to achieving good outcomes. In this paper, we argue for applying the concept of fair process in clinical settings. Fair process involves using a collaborative approach to exploring diagnostic issues and treatments with patients, explaining the rationale for decisions, setting expectations about roles and responsibilities, and implementing a core plan and ongoing evaluation. Fair process opens the door to bringing patient expertise into the clinical setting and the work of developing health care goals and strategies. This paper provides a step by step illustration of an innovative visual approach, called photovoice or photo-elicitation, to achieve fair process in clinical work with acquired brain injury survivors and others living with chronic health conditions. Applying this visual tool and methodology in the clinical setting will enhance patient-provider communication; engage patients as partners in identifying challenges, strengths, goals, and strategies; and support evaluation of progress over time. Asking patients to bring visuals of their lives into the clinical interaction can help to illuminate gaps in clinical knowledge, forge better therapeutic relationships with patients living with chronic conditions such as brain injury, and identify patient-centered goals and possibilities for healing. The process illustrated here can be used by clinicians, (primary care physicians, rehabilitation therapists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, psychologists, and others) working with people living with chronic conditions such as acquired brain injury, mental illness, physical disabilities, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, or post-traumatic stress, and by leaders of support groups for the types of patients described above and their family members or caregivers.
Medicine, Issue 48, person-centered care, participatory visual methods, photovoice, photo-elicitation, narrative medicine, acquired brain injury, disability, rehabilitation, palliative care
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
Coherence between Brain Cortical Function and Neurocognitive Performance during Changed Gravity Conditions
Institutions: German Sport University Cologne, University of Toronto, Queensland University of Technology, Gilching, Germany.
Previous studies of cognitive, mental and/or motor processes during short-, medium- and long-term weightlessness have only been descriptive in nature, and focused on psychological aspects. Until now, objective observation of neurophysiological parameters has not been carried out - undoubtedly because the technical and methodological means have not been available -, investigations into the neurophysiological effects of weightlessness are in their infancy (Schneider et al.
While imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) would be hardly applicable in space, the non-invasive near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) technique represents a method of mapping hemodynamic processes in the brain in real time that is both relatively inexpensive and that can be employed even under extreme conditions. The combination with electroencephalography (EEG) opens up the possibility of following the electrocortical processes under changing gravity conditions with a finer temporal resolution as well as with deeper localization, for instance with electrotomography (LORETA).
Previous studies showed an increase of beta frequency activity under normal gravity conditions and a decrease under weightlessness conditions during a parabolic flight (Schneider et al.
2008a+b). Tilt studies revealed different changes in brain function, which let suggest, that changes in parabolic flight might reflect emotional processes rather than hemodynamic changes. However, it is still unclear whether these are effects of changed gravity or hemodynamic changes within the brain. Combining EEG/LORETA and NIRS should for the first time make it possible to map the effect of weightlessness and reduced gravity on both hemodynamic and electrophysiological processes in the brain. Initially, this is to be done as part of a feasibility study during a parabolic flight. Afterwards, it is also planned to use both techniques during medium- and long-term space flight.
It can be assumed that the long-term redistribution of the blood volume and the associated increase in the supply of oxygen to the brain will lead to changes in the central nervous system that are also responsible for anaemic processes, and which can in turn reduce performance (De Santo et al.
2005), which means that they could be crucial for the success and safety of a mission (Genik et al.
2005, Ellis 2000).
Depending on these results, it will be necessary to develop and employ extensive countermeasures. Initial results for the MARS500 study suggest that, in addition to their significance in the context of the cardiovascular and locomotor systems, sport and physical activity can play a part in improving neurocognitive parameters. Before this can be fully established, however, it seems necessary to learn more about the influence of changing gravity conditions on neurophysiological processes and associated neurocognitive impairment.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, EEG, NIRS, electrotomography, parabolic flight, weightlessness, imaging, cognitive performance
Experimental Approaches to Tissue Engineering
Institutions: Brigham and Women's Hospital.
Issue 7, Cell Biology, tissue engineering, microfluidics, stem cells