The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1, promote early identification2, and inform treatment3. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8 and abnormal brain functioning9, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
14 Related JoVE Articles!
Correlating Behavioral Responses to fMRI Signals from Human Prefrontal Cortex: Examining Cognitive Processes Using Task Analysis
Institutions: Centre for Vision Research, York University, Centre for Vision Research, York University.
The aim of this methods paper is to describe how to implement a neuroimaging technique to examine complementary brain processes engaged by two similar tasks. Participants' behavior during task performance in an fMRI scanner can then be correlated to the brain activity using the blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal. We measure behavior to be able to sort correct trials, where the subject performed the task correctly and then be able to examine the brain signals related to correct performance. Conversely, if subjects do not perform the task correctly, and these trials are included in the same analysis with the correct trials we would introduce trials that were not only for correct performance. Thus, in many cases these errors can be used themselves to then correlate brain activity to them. We describe two complementary tasks that are used in our lab to examine the brain during suppression of an automatic responses: the stroop1
and anti-saccade tasks. The emotional stroop paradigm instructs participants to either report the superimposed emotional 'word' across the affective faces or the facial 'expressions' of the face stimuli1,2
. When the word and the facial expression refer to different emotions, a conflict between what must be said and what is automatically read occurs. The participant has to resolve the conflict between two simultaneously competing processes of word reading and facial expression. Our urge to read out a word leads to strong 'stimulus-response (SR)' associations; hence inhibiting these strong SR's is difficult and participants are prone to making errors. Overcoming this conflict and directing attention away from the face or the word requires the subject to inhibit bottom up processes which typically directs attention to the more salient stimulus. Similarly, in the anti-saccade task3,4,5,6
, where an instruction cue is used to direct only attention to a peripheral stimulus location but then the eye movement is made to the mirror opposite position. Yet again we measure behavior by recording the eye movements of participants which allows for the sorting of the behavioral responses into correct and error trials7
which then can be correlated to brain activity. Neuroimaging now allows researchers to measure different behaviors of correct and error trials that are indicative of different cognitive processes and pinpoint the different neural networks involved.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, fMRI, eyetracking, BOLD, attention, inhibition, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI
Eye Movement Monitoring of Memory
Institutions: Rotman Research Institute, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Explicit (often verbal) reports are typically used to investigate memory (e.g. "Tell me what you remember about the person you saw at the bank yesterday."), however such reports can often be unreliable or sensitive to response bias 1
, and may be unobtainable in some participant populations. Furthermore, explicit reports only reveal when information has reached consciousness and cannot comment on when memories were accessed during processing, regardless of whether the information is subsequently accessed in a conscious manner. Eye movement monitoring (eye tracking) provides a tool by which memory can be probed without asking participants to comment on the contents of their memories, and access of such memories can be revealed on-line 2,3
. Video-based eye trackers (either head-mounted or remote) use a system of cameras and infrared markers to examine the pupil and corneal reflection in each eye as the participant views a display monitor. For head-mounted eye trackers, infrared markers are also used to determine head position to allow for head movement and more precise localization of eye position. Here, we demonstrate the use of a head-mounted eye tracking system to investigate memory performance in neurologically-intact and neurologically-impaired adults. Eye movement monitoring procedures begin with the placement of the eye tracker on the participant, and setup of the head and eye cameras. Calibration and validation procedures are conducted to ensure accuracy of eye position recording. Real-time recordings of X,Y-coordinate positions on the display monitor are then converted and used to describe periods of time in which the eye is static (i.e. fixations) versus in motion (i.e., saccades). Fixations and saccades are time-locked with respect to the onset/offset of a visual display or another external event (e.g. button press). Experimental manipulations are constructed to examine how and when patterns of fixations and saccades are altered through different types of prior experience. The influence of memory is revealed in the extent to which scanning patterns to new images differ from scanning patterns to images that have been previously studied 2, 4-5
. Memory can also be interrogated for its specificity; for instance, eye movement patterns that differ between an identical and an altered version of a previously studied image reveal the storage of the altered detail in memory 2-3, 6-8
. These indices of memory can be compared across participant populations, thereby providing a powerful tool by which to examine the organization of memory in healthy individuals, and the specific changes that occur to memory with neurological insult or decline 2-3, 8-10
Neuroscience, Issue 42, eye movement monitoring, eye tracking, memory, aging, amnesia, visual processing
Three Dimensional Vestibular Ocular Reflex Testing Using a Six Degrees of Freedom Motion Platform
Institutions: Erasmus MC, TNO Human Factors.
The vestibular organ is a sensor that measures angular and linear accelerations with six degrees of freedom (6DF). Complete or partial defects in the vestibular organ results in mild to severe equilibrium problems, such as vertigo, dizziness, oscillopsia, gait unsteadiness nausea and/or vomiting. A good and frequently used measure to quantify gaze stabilization is the gain, which is defined as the magnitude of compensatory eye movements with respect to imposed head movements. To test vestibular function more fully one has to realize that 3D VOR ideally generates compensatory ocular rotations not only with a magnitude (gain) equal and opposite to the head rotation but also about an axis that is co-linear with the head rotation axis (alignment). Abnormal vestibular function thus results in changes in gain and changes in alignment of the 3D VOR response.
Here we describe a method to measure 3D VOR using whole body rotation on a 6DF motion platform. Although the method also allows testing translation VOR responses 1
, we limit ourselves to a discussion of the method to measure 3D angular VOR. In addition, we restrict ourselves here to description of data collected in healthy subjects in response to angular sinusoidal and impulse stimulation.
Subjects are sitting upright and receive whole-body small amplitude sinusoidal and constant acceleration impulses. Sinusoidal stimuli (f = 1 Hz, A = 4°) were delivered about the vertical axis and about axes in the horizontal plane varying between roll and pitch at increments of 22.5° in azimuth. Impulses were delivered in yaw, roll and pitch and in the vertical canal planes. Eye movements were measured using the scleral search coil technique 2
. Search coil signals were sampled at a frequency of 1 kHz.
The input-output ratio (gain) and misalignment (co-linearity) of the 3D VOR were calculated from the eye coil signals 3
Gain and co-linearity of 3D VOR depended on the orientation of the stimulus axis. Systematic deviations were found in particular during horizontal axis stimulation. In the light the eye rotation axis was properly aligned with the stimulus axis at orientations 0° and 90° azimuth, but gradually deviated more and more towards 45° azimuth.
The systematic deviations in misalignment for intermediate axes can be explained by a low gain for torsion (X-axis or roll-axis rotation) and a high gain for vertical eye movements (Y-axis or pitch-axis rotation (see Figure 2
). Because intermediate axis stimulation leads a compensatory response based on vector summation of the individual eye rotation components, the net response axis will deviate because the gain for X- and Y-axis are different.
In darkness the gain of all eye rotation components had lower values. The result was that the misalignment in darkness and for impulses had different peaks and troughs than in the light: its minimum value was reached for pitch axis stimulation and its maximum for roll axis stimulation.
Nine subjects participated in the experiment. All subjects gave their informed consent. The experimental procedure was approved by the Medical Ethics Committee of Erasmus University Medical Center and adhered to the Declaration of Helsinki for research involving human subjects.
Six subjects served as controls. Three subjects had a unilateral vestibular impairment due to a vestibular schwannoma. The age of control subjects (six males and three females) ranged from 22 to 55 years. None of the controls had visual or vestibular complaints due to neurological, cardio vascular and ophthalmic disorders.
The age of the patients with schwannoma varied between 44 and 64 years (two males and one female). All schwannoma subjects were under medical surveillance and/or had received treatment by a multidisciplinary team consisting of an othorhinolaryngologist and a neurosurgeon of the Erasmus University Medical Center. Tested patients all had a right side vestibular schwannoma and underwent a wait and watch policy (Table 1
; subjects N1-N3) after being diagnosed with vestibular schwannoma. Their tumors had been stabile for over 8-10 years on magnetic resonance imaging.
Neurobiology, Issue 75, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Ophthalmology, vestibulo ocular reflex, eye movements, torsion, balance disorders, rotation translation, equilibrium, eye rotation, motion, body rotation, vestibular organ, clinical techniques
Handwriting Analysis Indicates Spontaneous Dyskinesias in Neuroleptic Naïve Adolescents at High Risk for Psychosis
Institutions: University of Colorado Boulder, NeuroScript LLC, University of California, San Diego.
Growing evidence suggests that movement abnormalities are a core feature of psychosis. One marker of movement abnormality, dyskinesia, is a result of impaired neuromodulation of dopamine in fronto-striatal pathways. The traditional methods for identifying movement abnormalities include observer-based reports and force stability gauges. The drawbacks of these methods are long training times for raters, experimenter bias, large site differences in instrumental apparatus, and suboptimal reliability. Taking these drawbacks into account has guided the development of better standardized and more efficient procedures to examine movement abnormalities through handwriting analysis software and tablet. Individuals at risk for psychosis showed significantly more dysfluent pen movements (a proximal measure for dyskinesia) in a handwriting task. Handwriting kinematics offers a great advance over previous methods of assessing dyskinesia, which could clearly be beneficial for understanding the etiology of psychosis.
Behavior, Issue 81, Schizophrenia, Disorders with Psychotic Features, Psychology, Clinical, Psychopathology, behavioral sciences, Movement abnormalities, Ultra High Risk, psychosis, handwriting, computer tablet, dyskinesia
Driving Simulation in the Clinic: Testing Visual Exploratory Behavior in Daily Life Activities in Patients with Visual Field Defects
Institutions: Universitätsmedizin Charité, Universitätsmedizin Charité, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.
Patients suffering from homonymous hemianopia after infarction of the posterior cerebral artery (PCA) report different degrees of constraint in daily life, despite similar visual deficits. We assume this could be due to variable development of compensatory strategies such as altered visual scanning behavior. Scanning compensatory therapy (SCT) is studied as part of the visual training after infarction next to vision restoration therapy. SCT consists of learning to make larger eye movements into the blind field enlarging the visual field of search, which has been proven to be the most useful strategy1
, not only in natural search tasks but also in mastering daily life activities2
. Nevertheless, in clinical routine it is difficult to identify individual levels and training effects of compensatory behavior, since it requires measurement of eye movements in a head unrestrained condition. Studies demonstrated that unrestrained head movements alter the visual exploratory behavior compared to a head-restrained laboratory condition3
. Martin et al.4
and Hayhoe et al.5
showed that behavior demonstrated in a laboratory setting cannot be assigned easily to a natural condition. Hence, our goal was to develop a study set-up which uncovers different compensatory oculomotor strategies quickly in a realistic testing situation: Patients are tested in the clinical environment in a driving simulator. SILAB software (Wuerzburg Institute for Traffic Sciences GmbH (WIVW)
) was used to program driving scenarios of varying complexity and recording the driver's performance. The software was combined with a head mounted infrared video pupil tracker, recording head- and eye-movements (EyeSeeCam, University of Munich Hospital, Clinical Neurosciences).
The positioning of the patient in the driving simulator and the positioning, adjustment and calibration of the camera is demonstrated. Typical performances of a patient with and without compensatory strategy and a healthy control are illustrated in this pilot study. Different oculomotor behaviors (frequency and amplitude of eye- and head-movements) are evaluated very quickly during the drive itself by dynamic overlay pictures indicating where the subjects gaze is located on the screen, and by analyzing the data. Compensatory gaze behavior in a patient leads to a driving performance comparable to a healthy control, while the performance of a patient without compensatory behavior is significantly worse. The data of eye- and head-movement-behavior as well as driving performance are discussed with respect to different oculomotor strategies and in a broader context with respect to possible training effects throughout the testing session and implications on rehabilitation potential.
Medicine, Issue 67, Neuroscience, Physiology, Anatomy, Ophthalmology, compensatory oculomotor behavior, driving simulation, eye movements, homonymous hemianopia, stroke, visual field defects, visual field enlargement
Using the optokinetic response to study visual function of zebrafish
Institutions: University of Science and Technology of China (USTC).
Optokinetic response (OKR) is a behavior that an animal vibrates its eyes to follow a rotating grating around it. It has been widely used to assess the visual functions of larval zebrafish1-5
. Nevertheless, the standard protocol for larval fish is not yet readily applicable in adult zabrafish. Here, we introduce how to measure the OKR of adult zebrafish with our simple custom-built apparatus using a new protocol which is established in our lab. Both our apparatus and step-by-step procedure of OKR in adult zebrafish are illustrated in this video. In addition, the measurements of the larval OKR, as well as the optomotor response (OMR) test of adult zebrafish, are also demonstrated in this video. This OKR assay of adult zebrafish in our experiment may last for up to 4 hours. Such OKR test applied in adult fish will benefit to visual function investigation more efficiently when the adult fish vision system is manipulated.
Su-Qi Zou and Wu Yin contributed equally to this paper.
Neuroscience, Issue 36, Zebrafish, OKR, OMR, behavior, optokinetic, vision
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Methods to Explore the Influence of Top-down Visual Processes on Motor Behavior
Institutions: Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University, Rutgers University.
Kinesthetic awareness is important to successfully navigate the environment. When we interact with our daily surroundings, some aspects of movement are deliberately planned, while others spontaneously occur below conscious awareness. The deliberate component of this dichotomy has been studied extensively in several contexts, while the spontaneous component remains largely under-explored. Moreover, how perceptual processes modulate these movement classes is still unclear. In particular, a currently debated issue is whether the visuomotor system is governed by the spatial percept produced by a visual illusion or whether it is not affected by the illusion and is governed instead by the veridical percept. Bistable percepts such as 3D depth inversion illusions (DIIs) provide an excellent context to study such interactions and balance, particularly when used in combination with reach-to-grasp movements. In this study, a methodology is developed that uses a DII to clarify the role of top-down processes on motor action, particularly exploring how reaches toward a target on a DII are affected in both deliberate and spontaneous movement domains.
Behavior, Issue 86, vision for action, vision for perception, motor control, reach, grasp, visuomotor, ventral stream, dorsal stream, illusion, space perception, depth inversion
VisioTracker, an Innovative Automated Approach to Oculomotor Analysis
Institutions: University of Zurich, TSE Systems GmbH.
Investigations into the visual system development and function necessitate quantifiable behavioral models of visual performance that are easy to elicit, robust, and simple to manipulate. A suitable model has been found in the optokinetic response (OKR), a reflexive behavior present in all vertebrates due to its high selection value. The OKR involves slow stimulus-following movements of eyes alternated with rapid resetting saccades. The measurement of this behavior is easily carried out in zebrafish larvae, due to its early and stable onset (fully developed after 96 hours post fertilization (hpf)), and benefitting from the thorough knowledge about zebrafish genetics, for decades one of the favored model organisms in this field. Meanwhile the analysis of similar mechanisms in adult fish has gained importance, particularly for pharmacological and toxicological applications.
Here we describe VisioTracker, a fully automated, high-throughput system for quantitative analysis of visual performance. The system is based on research carried out in the group of Prof. Stephan Neuhauss and was re-designed by TSE Systems. It consists of an immobilizing device for small fish monitored by a high-quality video camera equipped with a high-resolution zoom lens. The fish container is surrounded by a drum screen, upon which computer-generated stimulus patterns can be projected. Eye movements are recorded and automatically analyzed by the VisioTracker software package in real time.
Data analysis enables immediate recognition of parameters such as slow and fast phase duration, movement cycle frequency, slow-phase gain, visual acuity, and contrast sensitivity.
Typical results allow for example the rapid identification of visual system mutants that show no apparent alteration in wild type morphology, or the determination of quantitative effects of pharmacological or toxic and mutagenic agents on visual system performance.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, zebrafish, fish larvae, visual system, optokinetic response, developmental genetics, pharmacology, mutants, Danio rerio, adult fish
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
Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
The present article describes how to use eye tracking methodologies to study the cognitive processes involved in text comprehension. Measuring eye movements during reading is one of the most precise methods for measuring moment-by-moment (online) processing demands during text comprehension. Cognitive processing demands are reflected by several aspects of eye movement behavior, such as fixation duration, number of fixations, and number of regressions (returning to prior parts of a text). Important properties of eye tracking equipment that researchers need to consider are described, including how frequently the eye position is measured (sampling rate), accuracy of determining eye position, how much head movement is allowed, and ease of use. Also described are properties of stimuli that influence eye movements that need to be controlled in studies of text comprehension, such as the position, frequency, and length of target words. Procedural recommendations related to preparing the participant, setting up and calibrating the equipment, and running a study are given. Representative results are presented to illustrate how data can be evaluated. Although the methodology is described in terms of reading comprehension, much of the information presented can be applied to any study in which participants read verbal stimuli.
Behavior, Issue 83, Eye movements, Eye tracking, Text comprehension, Reading, Cognition
Quantification of Global Diastolic Function by Kinematic Modeling-based Analysis of Transmitral Flow via the Parametrized Diastolic Filling Formalism
Institutions: Washington University in St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis, Washington University in St. Louis.
Quantitative cardiac function assessment remains a challenge for physiologists and clinicians. Although historically invasive methods have comprised the only means available, the development of noninvasive imaging modalities (echocardiography, MRI, CT) having high temporal and spatial resolution provide a new window for quantitative diastolic function assessment. Echocardiography is the agreed upon standard for diastolic function assessment, but indexes in current clinical use merely utilize selected features of chamber dimension (M-mode) or blood/tissue motion (Doppler) waveforms without incorporating the physiologic causal determinants of the motion itself. The recognition that all left ventricles (LV) initiate filling by serving as mechanical suction pumps allows global diastolic function to be assessed based on laws of motion that apply to all chambers. What differentiates one heart from another are the parameters of the equation of motion that governs filling. Accordingly, development of the Parametrized Diastolic Filling (PDF) formalism has shown that the entire range of clinically observed early transmitral flow (Doppler E-wave) patterns are extremely well fit by the laws of damped oscillatory motion. This permits analysis of individual E-waves in accordance with a causal mechanism (recoil-initiated suction) that yields three (numerically) unique lumped parameters whose physiologic analogues are chamber stiffness (k
), viscoelasticity/relaxation (c
), and load (xo
). The recording of transmitral flow (Doppler E-waves) is standard practice in clinical cardiology and, therefore, the echocardiographic recording method is only briefly reviewed. Our focus is on determination of the PDF parameters from routinely recorded E-wave data. As the highlighted results indicate, once the PDF parameters have been obtained from a suitable number of load varying E-waves, the investigator is free to use the parameters or construct indexes from the parameters (such as stored energy 1/2kxo2
, maximum A-V pressure gradient kxo
, load independent index of diastolic function, etc
.) and select the aspect of physiology or pathophysiology to be quantified.
Bioengineering, Issue 91, cardiovascular physiology, ventricular mechanics, diastolic function, mathematical modeling, Doppler echocardiography, hemodynamics, biomechanics
VisualEyes: A Modular Software System for Oculomotor Experimentation
Institutions: New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Eye movement studies have provided a strong foundation forming an understanding of how the brain acquires visual information in both the normal and dysfunctional brain.1
However, development of a platform to stimulate and store eye movements can require substantial programming, time and costs. Many systems do not offer the flexibility to program numerous stimuli for a variety of experimental needs. However, the VisualEyes System has a flexible architecture, allowing the operator to choose any background and foreground stimulus, program one or two screens for tandem or opposing eye movements and stimulate the left and right eye independently. This system can significantly reduce the programming development time needed to conduct an oculomotor study. The VisualEyes System will be discussed in three parts: 1) the oculomotor recording device to acquire eye movement responses, 2) the VisualEyes software written in LabView, to generate an array of stimuli and store responses as text files and 3) offline data analysis. Eye movements can be recorded by several types of instrumentation such as: a limbus tracking system, a sclera search coil, or a video image system. Typical eye movement stimuli such as saccadic steps, vergent ramps and vergent steps with the corresponding responses will be shown. In this video report, we demonstrate the flexibility of a system to create numerous visual stimuli and record eye movements that can be utilized by basic scientists and clinicians to study healthy as well as clinical populations.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, Eye Movement Recording, Neuroscience, Visual Stimulation, Saccade, Vergence, Smooth Pursuit, Central Vision, Attention, Heterophoria
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing