In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes) with such properties2.
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6 (also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
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
A Video Demonstration of Preserved Piloting by Scent Tracking but Impaired Dead Reckoning After Fimbria-Fornix Lesions in the Rat
Institutions: Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge.
Piloting and dead reckoning navigation strategies use very different cue constellations and computational processes (Darwin, 1873; Barlow, 1964; O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; Mittelstaedt and Mittelstaedt, 1980; Landeau et al., 1984; Etienne, 1987; Gallistel, 1990;
Maurer and Séguinot, 1995). Piloting requires the use of the relationships between relatively stable external (visual, olfactory, auditory) cues, whereas dead reckoning requires the integration of cues generated by self-movement. Animals obtain self-movement information from vestibular receptors, and possibly muscle and joint receptors, and efference copy of commands that generate movement. An animal may also use the flows of visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli caused by its movements. Using a piloting strategy an animal can use geometrical calculations to determine directions and distances to places in its environment, whereas using an dead reckoning strategy it can integrate cues generated by its previous movements to return to a just left location. Dead reckoning is colloquially called "sense of direction" and "sense of distance."
Although there is considerable evidence that the hippocampus is involved in piloting (O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; O’Keefe and Speakman, 1987), there is also evidence from behavioral (Whishaw et al., 1997; Whishaw and Maaswinkel, 1998; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999), modeling (Samsonovich and McNaughton, 1997), and electrophysiological (O’Mare et al., 1994; Sharp et al., 1995; Taube and Burton, 1995; Blair and Sharp, 1996; McNaughton et al., 1996; Wiener, 1996; Golob and Taube, 1997) studies that the hippocampal formation is involved in dead reckoning. The relative contribution of the hippocampus to the two forms of navigation is still uncertain, however. Ordinarily, it is difficult to be certain that an animal is using a piloting versus a dead reckoning strategy because animals are very flexible in their use of strategies and cues (Etienne et al., 1996; Dudchenko et al., 1997; Martin et al., 1997; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999). The objective of the present video demonstrations was to solve the problem of cue specification in order to examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus in the use of these strategies. The rats were trained in a new task in which they followed linear or polygon scented trails to obtain a large food pellet hidden on an open field. Because rats have a proclivity to carry the food back to the refuge, accuracy and the cues used to return to the home base were dependent variables (Whishaw and Tomie, 1997). To force an animal to use a a dead reckoning strategy to reach its refuge with the food, the rats were tested when blindfolded or under infrared light, a spectral wavelength in which they cannot see, and in some experiments the scent trail was additionally removed once an animal reached the food. To examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus, fimbria–fornix (FF) lesions, which disrupt information flow in the hippocampal formation (Bland, 1986), impair memory (Gaffan and Gaffan, 1991), and produce spatial deficits (Whishaw and Jarrard, 1995), were used.
Neuroscience, Issue 26, Dead reckoning, fimbria-fornix, hippocampus, odor tracking, path integration, spatial learning, spatial navigation, piloting, rat, Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience
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
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Quantum State Engineering of Light with Continuous-wave Optical Parametric Oscillators
Institutions: Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Ecole Normale Supérieure, CNRS, East China Normal University, Universidade de São Paulo.
Engineering non-classical states of the electromagnetic field is a central quest for quantum optics1,2
. Beyond their fundamental significance, such states are indeed the resources for implementing various protocols, ranging from enhanced metrology to quantum communication and computing. A variety of devices can be used to generate non-classical states, such as single emitters, light-matter interfaces or non-linear systems3
. We focus here on the use of a continuous-wave optical parametric oscillator3,4
. This system is based on a non-linear χ2
crystal inserted inside an optical cavity and it is now well-known as a very efficient source of non-classical light, such as single-mode or two-mode squeezed vacuum depending on the crystal phase matching.
Squeezed vacuum is a Gaussian state as its quadrature distributions follow a Gaussian statistics. However, it has been shown that number of protocols require non-Gaussian states5
. Generating directly such states is a difficult task and would require strong χ3
non-linearities. Another procedure, probabilistic but heralded, consists in using a measurement-induced non-linearity via a conditional preparation technique operated on Gaussian states. Here, we detail this generation protocol for two non-Gaussian states, the single-photon state and a superposition of coherent states, using two differently phase-matched parametric oscillators as primary resources. This technique enables achievement of a high fidelity with the targeted state and generation of the state in a well-controlled spatiotemporal mode.
Physics, Issue 87, Optics, Quantum optics, Quantum state engineering, Optical parametric oscillator, Squeezed vacuum, Single photon, Coherent state superposition, Homodyne detection
Using Informational Connectivity to Measure the Synchronous Emergence of fMRI Multi-voxel Information Across Time
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania.
It is now appreciated that condition-relevant information can be present within distributed patterns of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain activity, even for conditions with similar levels of univariate activation. Multi-voxel pattern (MVP) analysis has been used to decode this information with great success. FMRI investigators also often seek to understand how brain regions interact in interconnected networks, and use functional connectivity (FC) to identify regions that have correlated responses over time. Just as univariate analyses can be insensitive to information in MVPs, FC may not fully characterize the brain networks that process conditions with characteristic MVP signatures. The method described here, informational connectivity (IC), can identify regions with correlated changes in MVP-discriminability across time, revealing connectivity that is not accessible to FC. The method can be exploratory, using searchlights to identify seed-connected areas, or planned, between pre-selected regions-of-interest. The results can elucidate networks of regions that process MVP-related conditions, can breakdown MVPA searchlight maps into separate networks, or can be compared across tasks and patient groups.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, fMRI, MVPA, connectivity, informational connectivity, functional connectivity, networks, multi-voxel pattern analysis, decoding, classification, method, multivariate
Measuring Oral Fatty Acid Thresholds, Fat Perception, Fatty Food Liking, and Papillae Density in Humans
Institutions: Deakin University.
Emerging evidence from a number of laboratories indicates that humans have the ability to identify fatty acids in the oral cavity, presumably via fatty acid receptors housed on taste cells. Previous research has shown that an individual's oral sensitivity to fatty acid, specifically oleic acid (C18:1) is associated with body mass index (BMI), dietary fat consumption, and the ability to identify fat in foods. We have developed a reliable and reproducible method to assess oral chemoreception of fatty acids, using a milk and C18:1 emulsion, together with an ascending forced choice triangle procedure. In parallel, a food matrix has been developed to assess an individual's ability to perceive fat, in addition to a simple method to assess fatty food liking. As an added measure tongue photography is used to assess papillae density, with higher density often being associated with increased taste sensitivity.
Neuroscience, Issue 88, taste, overweight and obesity, dietary fat, fatty acid, diet, fatty food liking, detection threshold
Eye Tracking, Cortisol, and a Sleep vs. Wake Consolidation Delay: Combining Methods to Uncover an Interactive Effect of Sleep and Cortisol on Memory
Institutions: Boston College, Wofford College, University of Notre Dame.
Although rises in cortisol can benefit memory consolidation, as can sleep soon after encoding, there is currently a paucity of literature as to how these two factors may interact to influence consolidation. Here we present a protocol to examine the interactive influence of cortisol and sleep on memory consolidation, by combining three methods: eye tracking, salivary cortisol analysis, and behavioral memory testing across sleep and wake delays. To assess resting cortisol levels, participants gave a saliva sample before viewing negative and neutral objects within scenes. To measure overt attention, participants’ eye gaze was tracked during encoding. To manipulate whether sleep occurred during the consolidation window, participants either encoded scenes in the evening, slept overnight, and took a recognition test the next morning, or encoded scenes in the morning and remained awake during a comparably long retention interval. Additional control groups were tested after a 20 min delay in the morning or evening, to control for time-of-day effects. Together, results showed that there is a direct relation between resting cortisol at encoding and subsequent memory, only following a period of sleep. Through eye tracking, it was further determined that for negative stimuli, this beneficial effect of cortisol on subsequent memory may be due to cortisol strengthening the relation between where participants look during encoding and what they are later able to remember. Overall, results obtained by a combination of these methods uncovered an interactive effect of sleep and cortisol on memory consolidation.
Behavior, Issue 88, attention, consolidation, cortisol, emotion, encoding, glucocorticoids, memory, sleep, stress
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
A Method for Investigating Age-related Differences in the Functional Connectivity of Cognitive Control Networks Associated with Dimensional Change Card Sort Performance
Institutions: University of Western Ontario.
The ability to adjust behavior to sudden changes in the environment develops gradually in childhood and adolescence. For example, in the Dimensional Change Card Sort task, participants switch from sorting cards one way, such as shape, to sorting them a different way, such as color. Adjusting behavior in this way exacts a small performance cost, or switch cost, such that responses are typically slower and more error-prone on switch trials in which the sorting rule changes as compared to repeat trials in which the sorting rule remains the same. The ability to flexibly adjust behavior is often said to develop gradually, in part because behavioral costs such as switch costs typically decrease with increasing age. Why aspects of higher-order cognition, such as behavioral flexibility, develop so gradually remains an open question. One hypothesis is that these changes occur in association with functional changes in broad-scale cognitive control networks. On this view, complex mental operations, such as switching, involve rapid interactions between several distributed brain regions, including those that update and maintain task rules, re-orient attention, and select behaviors. With development, functional connections between these regions strengthen, leading to faster and more efficient switching operations. The current video describes a method of testing this hypothesis through the collection and multivariate analysis of fMRI data from participants of different ages.
Behavior, Issue 87, Neurosciences, fMRI, Cognitive Control, Development, Functional Connectivity
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Linearization of the Bradford Protein Assay
Institutions: Tel Aviv University.
Determination of microgram quantities of protein in the Bradford Coomassie brilliant blue assay is accomplished by measurement of absorbance at 590 nm. This most common assay enables rapid and simple protein quantification in cell lysates, cellular fractions, or recombinant protein samples, for the purpose of normalization of biochemical measurements. However, an intrinsic nonlinearity compromises the sensitivity and accuracy of this method. It is shown that under standard assay conditions, the ratio of the absorbance measurements at 590 nm and 450 nm is strictly linear with protein concentration. This simple procedure increases the accuracy and improves the sensitivity of the assay about 10-fold, permitting quantification down to 50 ng of bovine serum albumin. Furthermore, the interference commonly introduced by detergents that are used to create the cell lysates is greatly reduced by the new protocol. A linear equation developed on the basis of mass action and Beer's law perfectly fits the experimental data.
Cellular Biology, Issue 38, Bradford, protein assay, protein quantification, Coomassie brilliant blue
Modified Annexin V/Propidium Iodide Apoptosis Assay For Accurate Assessment of Cell Death
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Alberta.
Studies of cellular apoptosis have been significantly impacted since the introduction of flow cytometry-based methods. Propidium iodide (PI) is widely used in conjunction with Annexin V to determine if cells are viable, apoptotic, or necrotic through differences in plasma membrane integrity and permeability1,2
. The Annexin V/ PI protocol is a commonly used approach for studying apoptotic cells3
. PI is used more often than other nuclear stains because it is economical, stable and a good indicator of cell viability, based on its capacity to exclude dye in living cells 4,5
. The ability of PI to enter a cell is dependent upon the permeability of the membrane; PI does not stain live or early apoptotic cells due to the presence of an intact plasma membrane 1,2,6
. In late apoptotic and necrotic cells, the integrity of the plasma and nuclear membranes decreases7,8
, allowing PI to pass through the membranes, intercalate into nucleic acids, and display red fluorescence 1,2,9
. Unfortunately, we find that conventional Annexin V/ PI protocols lead to a significant number of false positive events (up to 40%), which are associated with PI staining of RNA within the cytoplasmic compartment10
. Primary cells and cell lines in a broad range of animal models are affected, with large cells (nuclear: cytoplasmic ratios <0.5) showing the highest occurrence10
. Herein, we demonstrate a modified Annexin V/ PI method that provides a significant improvement for assessment of cell death compared to conventional methods. This protocol takes advantage of changes in cellular permeability during cell fixing to promote entry of RNase A into cells following staining. Both the timing and concentration of RNase A have been optimized for removal of cytoplasmic RNA. The result is a significant improvement over conventional Annexin V/ PI protocols (< 5% events with cytoplasmic PI staining).
Cellular Biology, Issue 50, Apoptosis, cell death, propidium iodide, Annexin V, necrosis, immunology
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
Quantitative Imaging of Lineage-specific Toll-like Receptor-mediated Signaling in Monocytes and Dendritic Cells from Small Samples of Human Blood
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine .
Individual variations in immune status determine responses to infection and contribute to disease severity and outcome. Aging is associated with an increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections and decreased responsiveness to vaccines with a well-documented decline in humoral as well as cell-mediated immune responses1,2
. We have recently assessed the effects of aging on Toll-like receptors (TLRs), key components of the innate immune system that detect microbial infection and trigger antimicrobial host defense responses3
. In a large cohort of healthy human donors, we showed that peripheral blood monocytes from the elderly have decreased expression and function of certain TLRs4
and similar reduced TLR levels and signaling responses in dendritic cells (DCs), antigen-presenting cells that are pivotal in the linkage between innate and adaptive immunity5
. We have shown dysregulation of TLR3 in macrophages and lower production of IFN by DCs from elderly donors in response to infection with West Nile virus6,7
Paramount to our understanding of immunosenescence and to therapeutic intervention is a detailed understanding of specific cell types responding and the mechanism(s) of signal transduction. Traditional studies of immune responses through imaging of primary cells and surveying cell markers by FACS or immunoblot have advanced our understanding significantly, however, these studies are generally limited technically by the small sample volume available from patients and the inability to conduct complex laboratory techniques on multiple human samples. ImageStream combines quantitative flow cytometry with simultaneous high-resolution digital imaging and thus facilitates investigation in multiple cell populations contemporaneously for an efficient capture of patient susceptibility. Here we demonstrate the use of ImageStream in DCs to assess TLR7/8 activation-mediated increases in phosphorylation and nuclear translocation of a key transcription factor, NF-κB, which initiates transcription of numerous genes that are critical for immune responses8
. Using this technology, we have also recently demonstrated a previously unrecognized alteration of TLR5 signaling and the NF-κB pathway in monocytes from older donors that may contribute to altered immune responsiveness in aging9
Immunology, Issue 62, monocyte, dendritic cells, Toll-like receptors, fluorescent imaging, signaling, FACS, aging
Chromatin Interaction Analysis with Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) for Mapping Chromatin Interactions and Understanding Transcription Regulation
Institutions: Agency for Science, Technology and Research, Singapore, A*STAR-Duke-NUS Neuroscience Research Partnership, Singapore, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
Genomes are organized into three-dimensional structures, adopting higher-order conformations inside the micron-sized nuclear spaces 7, 2, 12
. Such architectures are not random and involve interactions between gene promoters and regulatory elements 13
. The binding of transcription factors to specific regulatory sequences brings about a network of transcription regulation and coordination 1, 14
Chromatin Interaction Analysis by Paired-End Tag Sequencing (ChIA-PET) was developed to identify these higher-order chromatin structures 5,6
. Cells are fixed and interacting loci are captured by covalent DNA-protein cross-links. To minimize non-specific noise and reduce complexity, as well as to increase the specificity of the chromatin interaction analysis, chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is used against specific protein factors to enrich chromatin fragments of interest before proximity ligation. Ligation involving half-linkers subsequently forms covalent links between pairs of DNA fragments tethered together within individual chromatin complexes. The flanking MmeI restriction enzyme sites in the half-linkers allow extraction of paired end tag-linker-tag constructs (PETs) upon MmeI digestion. As the half-linkers are biotinylated, these PET constructs are purified using streptavidin-magnetic beads. The purified PETs are ligated with next-generation sequencing adaptors and a catalog of interacting fragments is generated via next-generation sequencers such as the Illumina Genome Analyzer. Mapping and bioinformatics analysis is then performed to identify ChIP-enriched binding sites and ChIP-enriched chromatin interactions 8
We have produced a video to demonstrate critical aspects of the ChIA-PET protocol, especially the preparation of ChIP as the quality of ChIP plays a major role in the outcome of a ChIA-PET library. As the protocols are very long, only the critical steps are shown in the video.
Genetics, Issue 62, ChIP, ChIA-PET, Chromatin Interactions, Genomics, Next-Generation Sequencing
Applications of EEG Neuroimaging Data: Event-related Potentials, Spectral Power, and Multiscale Entropy
When considering human neuroimaging data, an appreciation of signal variability represents a fundamental innovation in the way we think about brain signal. Typically, researchers represent the brain's response as the mean across repeated experimental trials and disregard signal fluctuations over time as "noise". However, it is becoming clear that brain signal variability conveys meaningful functional information about neural network dynamics. This article describes the novel method of multiscale entropy (MSE) for quantifying brain signal variability. MSE may be particularly informative of neural network dynamics because it shows timescale dependence and sensitivity to linear and nonlinear dynamics in the data.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Electroencephalography, EEG, electroencephalogram, Multiscale entropy, sample entropy, MEG, neuroimaging, variability, noise, timescale, non-linear, brain signal, information theory, brain, imaging
Simultaneous Scalp Electroencephalography (EEG), Electromyography (EMG), and Whole-body Segmental Inertial Recording for Multi-modal Neural Decoding
Institutions: National Institutes of Health, University of Houston, University of Houston, University of Houston, University of Houston.
Recent studies support the involvement of supraspinal networks in control of bipedal human walking. Part of this evidence encompasses studies, including our previous work, demonstrating that gait kinematics and limb coordination during treadmill walking can be inferred from the scalp electroencephalogram (EEG) with reasonably high decoding accuracies. These results provide impetus for development of non-invasive brain-machine-interface (BMI) systems for use in restoration and/or augmentation of gait- a primary goal of rehabilitation research. To date, studies examining EEG decoding of activity during gait have been limited to treadmill walking in a controlled environment. However, to be practically viable a BMI system must be applicable for use in everyday locomotor tasks such as over ground walking and turning. Here, we present a novel protocol for non-invasive collection of brain activity (EEG), muscle activity (electromyography (EMG)), and whole-body kinematic data (head, torso, and limb trajectories) during both treadmill and over ground walking tasks. By collecting these data in the uncontrolled environment insight can be gained regarding the feasibility of decoding unconstrained gait and surface EMG from scalp EEG.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Electroencephalography, EEG, Electromyography, EMG, electroencephalograph, gait, brain-computer interface, brain machine interface, neural decoding, over-ground walking, robotic gait, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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
Fluorescence Imaging with One-nanometer Accuracy (FIONA)
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Fluorescence imaging with one-nanometer accuracy (FIONA) is a simple but useful technique for localizing single fluorophores with nanometer precision in the x-y plane. Here a summary of the FIONA technique is reported and examples of research that have been performed using FIONA are briefly described. First, how to set up the required equipment for FIONA experiments, i.e.
, a total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy (TIRFM), with details on aligning the optics, is described. Then how to carry out a simple FIONA experiment on localizing immobilized Cy3-DNA single molecules using appropriate protocols, followed by the use of FIONA to measure the 36 nm step size of a single truncated myosin Va motor labeled with a quantum dot, is illustrated. Lastly, recent effort to extend the application of FIONA to thick samples is reported. It is shown that, using a water immersion objective and quantum dots soaked deep in sol-gels and rabbit eye corneas (>200 µm), localization precision of 2-3 nm can be achieved.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, FIONA, fluorescence imaging, nanometer precision, myosin walking, thick tissue