Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
Radioactive in situ Hybridization for Detecting Diverse Gene Expression Patterns in Tissue
Institutions: Duke University , Hokkaido University.
Knowing the timing, level, cellular localization, and cell type that a gene is expressed in contributes to our understanding of the function of the gene. Each of these features can be accomplished with in situ
hybridization to mRNAs within cells. Here we present a radioactive in situ
hybridization method modified from Clayton et al.
that has been working successfully in our lab for many years, especially for adult vertebrate brains2-5
. The long complementary RNA (cRNA) probes to the target sequence allows for detection of low abundance transcripts6,7
. Incorporation of radioactive nucleotides into the cRNA probes allows for further detection sensitivity of low abundance transcripts and quantitative analyses, either by light sensitive x-ray film or emulsion coated over the tissue. These detection methods provide a long-term record of target gene expression. Compared with non-radioactive probe methods, such as DIG-labeling, the radioactive probe hybridization method does not require multiple amplification steps using HRP-antibodies and/or TSA kit to detect low abundance transcripts. Therefore, this method provides a linear relation between signal intensity and targeted mRNA amounts for quantitative analysis. It allows processing 100-200 slides simultaneously. It works well for different developmental stages of embryos. Most developmental studies of gene expression use whole embryos and non-radioactive approaches8,9
, in part because embryonic tissue is more fragile than adult tissue, with less cohesion between cells, making it difficult to see boundaries between cell populations with tissue sections. In contrast, our radioactive approach, due to the larger range of sensitivity, is able to obtain higher contrast in resolution of gene expression between tissue regions, making it easier to see boundaries between populations. Using this method, researchers could reveal the possible significance of a newly identified gene, and further predict the function of the gene of interest.
Neuroscience, Issue 62, in situ hybridization, radioactive, riboprobes, vertebrate, embryo, silver emulsion, darkfield, genetics
Assessment of Social Interaction Behaviors
Institutions: Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Social interactions are a fundamental and adaptive component of the biology of numerous species. Social recognition is critical for the structure and stability of the networks and relationships that define societies. For animals, such as mice, recognition of conspecifics may be important for maintaining social hierarchy and for mate choice 1
A variety of neuropsychiatric disorders are characterized by disruptions in social behavior and social recognition, including depression, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and schizophrenia. Studies of humans as well as animal models (e.g., Drosophila melanogaster
, Caenorhabditis elegans
, Mus musculus
, Rattus norvegicus
) have identified genes involved in the regulation of social behavior 2
. To assess sociability in animal models, several behavioral tests have been developed (reviewed in 3
). Integrative research using animal models and appropriate tests for social behavior may lead to the development of improved treatments for social psychopathologies.
The three-chamber paradigm test known as Crawley's sociability and preference for social novelty protocol has been successfully employed to study social affiliation and social memory in several inbred and mutant mouse lines (e.g. 4-7
). The main principle of this test is based on the free choice by a subject mouse to spend time in any of three box's compartments during two experimental sessions, including indirect contact with one or two mice with which it is unfamiliar. To quantitate social tendencies of the experimental mouse, the main tasks are to measure a) the time spent with a novel conspecific and b) preference for a novel vs. a familiar conspecific. Thus, the experimental design of this test allows evaluation of two critical but distinguishable aspects of social behavior, such as social affiliation/motivation, as well as social memory and novelty. "Sociability" in this case is defined as propensity to spend time with another mouse, as compared to time spent alone in an identical but empty chamber 7
. "Preference for social novelty" is defined as propensity to spend time with a previously unencountered mouse rather than with a familiar mouse 7
. This test provides robust results, which then must be carefully analyzed, interpreted and supported/confirmed by alternative sociability tests. In addition to specific applications, Crawley's sociability test can be included as an important component of general behavioral screen of mutant mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Mice, behavioral test, phenotyping, social interaction
Acute and Chronic Tactile Sensory Testing after Spinal Cord Injury in Rats
Institutions: School of Allied Medical Professions, The Ohio State University, Drexel University College of Medicine.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) impairs sensory systems causing allodynia1-8
. To identify cellular and molecular causes of allodynia, sensitive and valid sensory testing in rat SCI models is needed. However, until recently, no single testing approach had been validated for SCI so that standardized methods have not been implemented across labs. Additionally, available testing methods could not be implemented acutely or when severe motor impairments existed, preventing studies of the development of SCI-induced allodynia3
. Here we present two validated sensory testing methods using von Frey Hair (VFH) monofilaments which quantify changes in tactile sensory thresholds after SCI4-5
. One test is the well-established Up-Down test which demonstrates high sensitivity and specificity across different SCI severities when tested chronically5
. The other test is a newly-developed dorsal VFH test that can be applied acutely after SCI when allodynia develops, prior to motor recovery4-5
. Each VFH monofilament applies a calibrated force when touched to the skin of the hind paw until it bends. In the up-down method, alternating VFHs of higher or lower forces are used on the plantar L5 dermatome to delineate flexor withdrawal thresholds. Successively higher forces are applied until withdrawal occurs then lower force VFHs are used until withdrawal ceases. The tactile threshold reflects the force required to elicit withdrawal in 50% of the stimuli. For the new test, each VFH is applied to the dorsal L5 dermatome of the paw while the rat is supported by the examiner. The VFH stimulation occurs in ascending order of force until at least 2 of 3 applications at a given force produces paw withdrawal. Tactile sensory threshold is the lowest force to elicit withdrawal 66% of the time. Acclimation, testing and scoring procedures are described. Aberrant trials that require a retest and typical trials are defined. Animal use was approved by Ohio State University Animal Care and Use Committee.
Medicine, Issue 62, Rat, neuropathic pain, allodynia, tactile sensation, spinal cord injury, SCI, von Frey monofilaments
In vitro Transcription and Capping of Gaussia Luciferase mRNA Followed by HeLa Cell Transfection
Institutions: New England Biolabs.
transcription is the synthesis of RNA transcripts by RNA polymerase from a linear DNA template containing the corresponding promoter sequence (T7, T3, SP6) and the gene to be transcribed (Figure 1A
). A typical transcription reaction consists of the template DNA, RNA polymerase, ribonucleotide triphosphates, RNase inhibitor and buffer containing Mg2+
Large amounts of high quality RNA are often required for a variety of applications. Use of in vitro
transcription has been reported for RNA structure and function studies such as splicing1
, RNAi experiments in mammalian cells2
, antisense RNA amplification by the "Eberwine method"3
, microarray analysis4
and for RNA vaccine studies5
. The technique can also be used for producing radiolabeled and dye labeled probes6
. Warren, et al.
recently reported reprogramming of human cells by transfection with in vitro
transcribed capped RNA7
. The T7 High Yield RNA Synthesis Kit from New England Biolabs has been designed to synthesize up to 180 μg RNA per 20 μl reaction. RNA of length up to 10kb has been successfully transcribed using this kit. Linearized plasmid DNA, PCR products and synthetic DNA oligonucleotides can be used as templates for transcription as long as they have the T7 promoter sequence upstream of the gene to be transcribed.
Addition of a 5' end cap structure to the RNA is an important process in eukaryotes. It is essential for RNA stability8
, efficient translation9
, nuclear transport10
. The process involves addition of a 7-methylguanosine cap at the 5' triphosphate end of the RNA. RNA capping can be carried out post-transcriptionally using capping enzymes or co-transcriptionally using cap analogs. In the enzymatic method, the mRNA is capped using the Vaccinia
virus capping enzyme12,13
. The enzyme adds on a 7-methylguanosine cap at the 5' end of the RNA using GTP and S-adenosyl methionine as donors (cap 0 structure). Both methods yield functionally active capped RNA suitable for transfection or other applications14
such as generating viral genomic RNA for reverse-genetic systems15
and crystallographic studies of cap binding proteins such as eIF4E16
In the method described below, the T7 High Yield RNA Synthesis Kit from NEB is used to synthesize capped and uncapped RNA transcripts of Gaussia
luciferase (GLuc) and Cypridina
luciferase (CLuc). A portion of the uncapped GLuc RNA is capped using the Vaccinia Capping System (NEB). A linearized plasmid containing the GLuc or CLuc gene and T7 promoter is used as the template DNA. The transcribed RNA is transfected into HeLa cells and cell culture supernatants are assayed for luciferase activity. Capped CLuc RNA is used as the internal control to normalize GLuc expression.
Genetics, Issue 61, In vitro transcription, Vaccinia capping enzyme, transfection, T7 RNA Polymerase, RNA synthesis
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Recording Single Neurons' Action Potentials from Freely Moving Pigeons Across Three Stages of Learning
Institutions: Ruhr-University Bochum.
While the subject of learning has attracted immense interest from both behavioral and neural scientists, only relatively few investigators have observed single-neuron activity while animals are acquiring an operantly conditioned response, or when that response is extinguished. But even in these cases, observation periods usually encompass only a single stage of learning, i.e.
acquisition or extinction, but not both (exceptions include protocols employing reversal learning; see Bingman et al.1
for an example). However, acquisition and extinction entail different learning mechanisms and are therefore expected to be accompanied by different types and/or loci of neural plasticity.
Accordingly, we developed a behavioral paradigm which institutes three stages of learning in a single behavioral session and which is well suited for the simultaneous recording of single neurons' action potentials. Animals are trained on a single-interval forced choice task which requires mapping each of two possible choice responses to the presentation of different novel visual stimuli (acquisition). After having reached a predefined performance criterion, one of the two choice responses is no longer reinforced (extinction). Following a certain decrement in performance level, correct responses are reinforced again (reacquisition). By using a new set of stimuli in every session, animals can undergo the acquisition-extinction-reacquisition process repeatedly. Because all three stages of learning occur in a single behavioral session, the paradigm is ideal for the simultaneous observation of the spiking output of multiple single neurons. We use pigeons as model systems, but the task can easily be adapted to any other species capable of conditioned discrimination learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, pigeon, single unit recording, learning, memory, extinction, spike sorting, operant conditioning, reward, electrophysiology, animal cognition, model species
Polymalic Acid-based Nano Biopolymers for Targeting of Multiple Tumor Markers: An Opportunity for Personalized Medicine?
Institutions: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Tumors with similar grade and morphology often respond differently to the same treatment because of variations in molecular profiling. To account for this diversity, personalized medicine is developed for silencing malignancy associated genes. Nano drugs fit these needs by targeting tumor and delivering antisense oligonucleotides for silencing of genes. As drugs for the treatment are often administered repeatedly, absence of toxicity and negligible immune response are desirable. In the example presented here, a nano medicine is synthesized from the biodegradable, non-toxic and non-immunogenic platform polymalic acid by controlled chemical ligation of antisense oligonucleotides and tumor targeting molecules. The synthesis and treatment is exemplified for human Her2-positive breast cancer using an experimental mouse model. The case can be translated towards synthesis and treatment of other tumors.
Chemistry, Issue 88, Cancer treatment, personalized medicine, polymalic acid, nanodrug, biopolymer, targeting, host compatibility, biodegradability
Ultrasound Assessment of Endothelial-Dependent Flow-Mediated Vasodilation of the Brachial Artery in Clinical Research
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco.
The vascular endothelium is a monolayer of cells that cover the interior of blood vessels and provide both structural and functional roles. The endothelium acts as a barrier, preventing leukocyte adhesion and aggregation, as well as controlling permeability to plasma components. Functionally, the endothelium affects vessel tone.
Endothelial dysfunction is an imbalance between the chemical species which regulate vessel tone, thombroresistance, cellular proliferation and mitosis. It is the first step in atherosclerosis and is associated with coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, heart failure, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.
The first demonstration of endothelial dysfunction involved direct infusion of acetylcholine and quantitative coronary angiography. Acetylcholine binds to muscarinic receptors on the endothelial cell surface, leading to an increase of intracellular calcium and increased nitric oxide (NO) production. In subjects with an intact endothelium, vasodilation was observed while subjects with endothelial damage experienced paradoxical vasoconstriction.
There exists a non-invasive, in vivo
method for measuring endothelial function in peripheral arteries using high-resolution B-mode ultrasound. The endothelial function of peripheral arteries is closely related to coronary artery function. This technique measures the percent diameter change in the brachial artery during a period of reactive hyperemia following limb ischemia.
This technique, known as endothelium-dependent, flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD) has value in clinical research settings. However, a number of physiological and technical issues can affect the accuracy of the results and appropriate guidelines for the technique have been published. Despite the guidelines, FMD remains heavily operator dependent and presents a steep learning curve. This article presents a standardized method for measuring FMD in the brachial artery on the upper arm and offers suggestions to reduce intra-operator variability.
Medicine, Issue 92, endothelial function, endothelial dysfunction, brachial artery, peripheral artery disease, ultrasound, vascular, endothelium, cardiovascular disease.
Isolation and Quantification of Botulinum Neurotoxin From Complex Matrices Using the BoTest Matrix Assays
Institutions: BioSentinel Inc., Madison, WI.
Accurate detection and quantification of botulinum neurotoxin (BoNT) in complex matrices is required for pharmaceutical, environmental, and food sample testing. Rapid BoNT testing of foodstuffs is needed during outbreak forensics, patient diagnosis, and food safety testing while accurate potency testing is required for BoNT-based drug product manufacturing and patient safety. The widely used mouse bioassay for BoNT testing is highly sensitive but lacks the precision and throughput needed for rapid and routine BoNT testing. Furthermore, the bioassay's use of animals has resulted in calls by drug product regulatory authorities and animal-rights proponents in the US and abroad to replace the mouse bioassay for BoNT testing. Several in vitro
replacement assays have been developed that work well with purified BoNT in simple buffers, but most have not been shown to be applicable to testing in highly complex matrices. Here, a protocol for the detection of BoNT in complex matrices using the BoTest Matrix assays is presented. The assay consists of three parts: The first part involves preparation of the samples for testing, the second part is an immunoprecipitation step using anti-BoNT antibody-coated paramagnetic beads to purify BoNT from the matrix, and the third part quantifies the isolated BoNT's proteolytic activity using a fluorogenic reporter. The protocol is written for high throughput testing in 96-well plates using both liquid and solid matrices and requires about 2 hr of manual preparation with total assay times of 4-26 hr depending on the sample type, toxin load, and desired sensitivity. Data are presented for BoNT/A testing with phosphate-buffered saline, a drug product, culture supernatant, 2% milk, and fresh tomatoes and includes discussion of critical parameters for assay success.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Botulinum, food testing, detection, quantification, complex matrices, BoTest Matrix, Clostridium, potency testing
Assessment of Ultrasonic Vocalizations During Drug Self-administration in Rats
Institutions: University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Austin, University of Michigan, University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas at Austin.
Drug self-administration procedures are commonly used to study behavioral and neurochemical changes associated with human drug abuse, addiction and relapse. Various types of behavioral activity are commonly utilized as measures of drug motivation in animals. However, a crucial component of drug abuse relapse in abstinent cocaine users is "drug craving", which is difficult to model in animals, as it often occurs in the absence of overt behaviors. Yet, it is possible that a class of ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) in rats may be a useful marker for affective responses to drug administration, drug anticipation and even drug craving. Rats vocalize in ultrasonic frequencies that serve as a communicatory function and express subjective emotional states. Several studies have shown that different call frequency ranges are associated with negative and positive emotional states. For instance, high frequency calls ("50-kHz") are associated with positive affect, whereas low frequency calls ("22-kHz") represent a negative emotional state. This article describes a procedure to assess rat USVs associated with daily cocaine self-administration. For this procedure, we utilized standard single-lever operant chambers housed within sound-attenuating boxes for cocaine self-administration sessions and utilized ultrasonic microphones, multi-channel recording hardware and specialized software programs to detect and analyze USVs. USVs measurements reflect emotionality of rats before, during and after drug availability and can be correlated with commonly assessed drug self-administration behavioral data such lever responses, inter-response intervals and locomotor activity. Since USVs can be assessed during intervals prior to drug availability (e.g., anticipatory USVs) and during drug extinction trials, changes in affect associated with drug anticipation and drug abstinence can also be determined. In addition, determining USV changes over the course of short- and long-term drug exposure can provide a more detailed interpretation of drug exposure effects on affective functioning.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, ultrasound, behavior, self-administration, emotionality, anticipation, reward
Behavioral Determination of Stimulus Pair Discrimination of Auditory Acoustic and Electrical Stimuli Using a Classical Conditioning and Heart-rate Approach
Institutions: La Trobe University.
Acute animal preparations have been used in research prospectively investigating electrode designs and stimulation techniques for integration into neural auditory prostheses, such as auditory brainstem implants1-3
and auditory midbrain implants4,5
. While acute experiments can give initial insight to the effectiveness of the implant, testing the chronically implanted and awake animals provides the advantage of examining the psychophysical properties of the sensations induced using implanted devices6,7
Several techniques such as reward-based operant conditioning6-8
, conditioned avoidance9-11
, or classical fear conditioning12
have been used to provide behavioral confirmation of detection of a relevant stimulus attribute. Selection of a technique involves balancing aspects including time efficiency (often poor in reward-based approaches), the ability to test a plurality of stimulus attributes simultaneously (limited in conditioned avoidance), and measure reliability of repeated stimuli (a potential constraint when physiological measures are employed).
Here, a classical fear conditioning behavioral method is presented which may be used to simultaneously test both detection of a stimulus, and discrimination between two stimuli. Heart-rate is used as a measure of fear response, which reduces or eliminates the requirement for time-consuming video coding for freeze behaviour or other such measures (although such measures could be included to provide convergent evidence). Animals were conditioned using these techniques in three 2-hour conditioning sessions, each providing 48 stimulus trials. Subsequent 48-trial testing sessions were then used to test for detection of each stimulus in presented pairs, and test discrimination between the member stimuli of each pair.
This behavioral method is presented in the context of its utilisation in auditory prosthetic research. The implantation of electrocardiogram telemetry devices is shown. Subsequent implantation of brain electrodes into the Cochlear Nucleus, guided by the monitoring of neural responses to acoustic stimuli, and the fixation of the electrode into place for chronic use is likewise shown.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, Physiology, auditory, hearing, brainstem, stimulation, rat, abi
Targeted Training of Ultrasonic Vocalizations in Aged and Parkinsonian Rats
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin.
Voice deficits are a common complication of both Parkinson disease (PD) and aging; they can significantly diminish quality of life by impacting communication abilities. 1, 2
Targeted training (speech/voice therapy) can improve specific voice deficits,3, 4
although the underlying mechanisms of behavioral interventions are not well understood. Systematic investigation of voice deficits and therapy should consider many factors that are difficult to control in humans, such as age, home environment, age post-onset of disease, severity of disease, and medications. The method presented here uses an animal model of vocalization that allows for systematic study of how underlying sensorimotor mechanisms change with targeted voice training. The ultrasonic recording and analysis procedures outlined in this protocol are applicable to any investigation of rodent ultrasonic vocalizations.
The ultrasonic vocalizations of rodents are emerging as a valuable model to investigate the neural substrates of behavior.5-8
Both rodent and human vocalizations carry semiotic value and are produced by modifying an egressive airflow with a laryngeal constriction.9, 10
Thus, rodent vocalizations may be a useful model to study voice deficits in a sensorimotor context. Further, rat models allow us to study the neurobiological underpinnings of recovery from deficits with targeted training.
To model PD we use Long-Evans rats (Charles River Laboratories International, Inc.) and induce parkinsonism by a unilateral infusion of 7 μg of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) into the medial forebrain bundle which causes moderate to severe degeneration of presynaptic striatal neurons (for details see Ciucci, 2010).11, 12
For our aging model we use the Fischer 344/Brown Norway F1 (National Institute on Aging).
Our primary method for eliciting vocalizations is to expose sexually-experienced male rats to sexually receptive female rats. When the male becomes interested in the female, the female is removed and the male continues to vocalize. By rewarding complex vocalizations with food or water, both the number of complex vocalizations and the rate of vocalizations can be increased (Figure 1).
An ultrasonic microphone mounted above the male's home cage records the vocalizations. Recording begins after the female rat is removed to isolate the male calls. Vocalizations can be viewed in real time for training or recorded and analyzed offline. By recording and acoustically analyzing vocalizations before and after vocal training, the effects of disease and restoration of normal function with training can be assessed. This model also allows us to relate the observed behavioral (vocal) improvements to changes in the brain and neuromuscular system.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, ultrasonic vocalization, rat, aging, Parkinson disease, exercise, 6-hydroxydopamine, voice disorders, voice therapy
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) with Auditory Stimulation in Songbirds
Institutions: University of Antwerp.
The neurobiology of birdsong, as a model for human speech, is a pronounced area of research in behavioral neuroscience. Whereas electrophysiology and molecular approaches allow the investigation of either different stimuli on few neurons, or one stimulus in large parts of the brain, blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) allows combining both advantages, i.e.
compare the neural activation induced by different stimuli in the entire brain at once. fMRI in songbirds is challenging because of the small size of their brains and because their bones and especially their skull comprise numerous air cavities, inducing important susceptibility artifacts. Gradient-echo (GE) BOLD fMRI has been successfully applied to songbirds 1-5
(for a review, see 6
). These studies focused on the primary and secondary auditory brain areas, which are regions free of susceptibility artifacts. However, because processes of interest may occur beyond these regions, whole brain BOLD fMRI is required using an MRI sequence less susceptible to these artifacts. This can be achieved by using spin-echo (SE) BOLD fMRI 7,8
. In this article, we describe how to use this technique in zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata
), which are small songbirds with a bodyweight of 15-25 g extensively studied in behavioral neurosciences of birdsong. The main topic of fMRI studies on songbirds is song perception and song learning. The auditory nature of the stimuli combined with the weak BOLD sensitivity of SE (compared to GE) based fMRI sequences makes the implementation of this technique very challenging.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biophysics, Physiology, Anatomy, Functional MRI, fMRI, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI, blood oxygenation level dependent fMRI, BOLD fMRI, Brain, Songbird, zebra finches, Taeniopygia guttata, Auditory Stimulation, stimuli, animal model, imaging
A Lightweight, Headphones-based System for Manipulating Auditory Feedback in Songbirds
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University, Emory University.
Experimental manipulations of sensory feedback during complex behavior have provided valuable insights into the computations underlying motor control and sensorimotor plasticity1
. Consistent sensory perturbations result in compensatory changes in motor output, reflecting changes in feedforward motor control that reduce the experienced feedback error. By quantifying how different sensory feedback errors affect human behavior, prior studies have explored how visual signals are used to recalibrate arm movements2,3
and auditory feedback is used to modify speech production4-7
. The strength of this approach rests on the ability to mimic naturalistic errors in behavior, allowing the experimenter to observe how experienced errors in production are used to recalibrate motor output.
Songbirds provide an excellent animal model for investigating the neural basis of sensorimotor control and plasticity8,9
. The songbird brain provides a well-defined circuit in which the areas necessary for song learning are spatially separated from those required for song production, and neural recording and lesion studies have made significant advances in understanding how different brain areas contribute to vocal behavior9-12
. However, the lack of a naturalistic error-correction paradigm - in which a known acoustic parameter is perturbed by the experimenter and then corrected by the songbird - has made it difficult to understand the computations underlying vocal learning or how different elements of the neural circuit contribute to the correction of vocal errors13
The technique described here gives the experimenter precise control over auditory feedback errors in singing birds, allowing the introduction of arbitrary sensory errors that can be used to drive vocal learning. Online sound-processing equipment is used to introduce a known perturbation to the acoustics of song, and a miniaturized headphones apparatus is used to replace a songbird's natural auditory feedback with the perturbed signal in real time. We have used this paradigm to perturb the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in adult songbirds, providing the first demonstration that adult birds maintain vocal performance using error correction14
. The present protocol can be used to implement a wide range of sensory feedback perturbations (including but not limited to pitch shifts) to investigate the computational and neurophysiological basis of vocal learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Anatomy, Physiology, Zoology, Behavior, Songbird, psychophysics, auditory feedback, biology, sensorimotor learning
Automated Interactive Video Playback for Studies of Animal Communication
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Video playback is a widely-used technique for the controlled manipulation and presentation of visual signals in animal communication. In particular, parameter-based computer animation offers the opportunity to independently manipulate any number of behavioral, morphological, or spectral characteristics in the context of realistic, moving images of animals on screen. A major limitation of conventional playback, however, is that the visual stimulus lacks the ability to interact with the live animal. Borrowing from video-game technology, we have created an automated, interactive system for video playback that controls animations in response to real-time signals from a video tracking system. We demonstrated this method by conducting mate-choice trials on female swordtail fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni
. Females were given a simultaneous choice between a courting male conspecific and a courting male heterospecific (X. malinche
) on opposite sides of an aquarium. The virtual male stimulus was programmed to track the horizontal position of the female, as courting males do in the wild. Mate-choice trials on wild-caught X. birchmanni
females were used to validate the prototype's ability to effectively generate a realistic visual stimulus.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Computer animation, visual communication, mate choice, Xiphophorus birchmanni, tracking
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
A Low Cost Setup for Behavioral Audiometry in Rodents
Institutions: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
In auditory animal research it is crucial to have precise information about basic hearing parameters of the animal subjects that are involved in the experiments. Such parameters may be physiological response characteristics of the auditory pathway, e.g.
via brainstem audiometry (BERA). But these methods allow only indirect and uncertain extrapolations about the auditory percept that corresponds to these physiological parameters. To assess the perceptual level of hearing, behavioral methods have to be used. A potential problem with the use of behavioral methods for the description of perception in animal models is the fact that most of these methods involve some kind of learning paradigm before the subjects can be behaviorally tested, e.g.
animals may have to learn to press a lever in response to a sound. As these learning paradigms change perception itself 1,2
they consequently will influence any result about perception obtained with these methods and therefore have to be interpreted with caution. Exceptions are paradigms that make use of reflex responses, because here no learning paradigms have to be carried out prior to perceptual testing. One such reflex response is the acoustic startle response (ASR) that can highly reproducibly be elicited with unexpected loud sounds in naïve animals. This ASR in turn can be influenced by preceding sounds depending on the perceptibility of this preceding stimulus: Sounds well above hearing threshold will completely inhibit the amplitude of the ASR; sounds close to threshold will only slightly inhibit the ASR. This phenomenon is called pre-pulse inhibition (PPI) 3,4
, and the amount of PPI on the ASR gradually depends on the perceptibility of the pre-pulse. PPI of the ASR is therefore well suited to determine behavioral audiograms in naïve, non-trained animals, to determine hearing impairments or even to detect possible subjective tinnitus percepts in these animals. In this paper we demonstrate the use of this method in a rodent model (cf. also ref. 5
), the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus), which is a well know model species for startle response research within the normal human hearing range (e.g. 6
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, otolaryngology, behavior, auditory startle response, pre-pulse inhibition, audiogram, tinnitus, hearing loss