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.
25 Related JoVE Articles!
Psychophysiological Stress Assessment Using Biofeedback
Institutions: Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School.
In the last half century, research in biofeedback has shown the extent to which the human mind can influence the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, previously thought to be outside of conscious control. By letting people observe signals from their own bodies, biofeedback enables them to develop greater awareness of their physiological and psychological reactions, such as stress, and to learn to modify these reactions. Biofeedback practitioners can facilitate this process by assessing people s reactions to mildly stressful events and formulating a biofeedback-based treatment plan. During stress assessment the practitioner first records a baseline for physiological readings, and then presents the client with several mild stressors, such as a cognitive, physical and emotional stressor. Variety of stressors is presented in order to determine a person's stimulus-response specificity, or differences in each person's reaction to qualitatively different stimuli. This video will demonstrate the process of psychophysiological stress assessment using biofeedback and present general guidelines for treatment planning.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, Stress, biofeedback, psychophysiological, assessment
Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
The present article describes how to use eye tracking methodologies to study the cognitive processes involved in text comprehension. Measuring eye movements during reading is one of the most precise methods for measuring moment-by-moment (online) processing demands during text comprehension. Cognitive processing demands are reflected by several aspects of eye movement behavior, such as fixation duration, number of fixations, and number of regressions (returning to prior parts of a text). Important properties of eye tracking equipment that researchers need to consider are described, including how frequently the eye position is measured (sampling rate), accuracy of determining eye position, how much head movement is allowed, and ease of use. Also described are properties of stimuli that influence eye movements that need to be controlled in studies of text comprehension, such as the position, frequency, and length of target words. Procedural recommendations related to preparing the participant, setting up and calibrating the equipment, and running a study are given. Representative results are presented to illustrate how data can be evaluated. Although the methodology is described in terms of reading comprehension, much of the information presented can be applied to any study in which participants read verbal stimuli.
Behavior, Issue 83, Eye movements, Eye tracking, Text comprehension, Reading, Cognition
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
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
Studying Food Reward and Motivation in Humans
Institutions: University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital.
A key challenge in studying reward processing in humans is to go beyond subjective self-report measures and quantify different aspects of reward such as hedonics, motivation, and goal value in more objective ways. This is particularly relevant for the understanding of overeating and obesity as well as their potential treatments. In this paper are described a set of measures of food-related motivation using handgrip force as a motivational measure. These methods can be used to examine changes in food related motivation with metabolic (satiety) and pharmacological manipulations and can be used to evaluate interventions targeted at overeating and obesity. However to understand food-related decision making in the complex food environment it is essential to be able to ascertain the reward goal values that guide the decisions and behavioral choices that people make. These values are hidden but it is possible to ascertain them more objectively using metrics such as the willingness to pay and a method for this is described. Both these sets of methods provide quantitative measures of motivation and goal value that can be compared within and between individuals.
Behavior, Issue 85, Food reward, motivation, grip force, willingness to pay, subliminal motivation
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
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
A Guide to In vivo Single-unit Recording from Optogenetically Identified Cortical Inhibitory Interneurons
Institutions: University of Oregon.
A major challenge in neurophysiology has been to characterize the response properties and function of the numerous inhibitory cell types in the cerebral cortex.
We here share our strategy for obtaining stable, well-isolated single-unit recordings from identified inhibitory interneurons in the anesthetized mouse cortex using a method developed by Lima and colleagues1
. Recordings are performed in mice expressing Channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) in specific neuronal subpopulations. Members of the population are identified by their response to a brief flash of blue light. This technique – termed “PINP”, or Photostimulation-assisted Identification of Neuronal Populations – can be implemented with standard extracellular recording equipment. It can serve as an inexpensive and accessible alternative to calcium imaging or visually-guided patching, for the purpose of targeting extracellular recordings to genetically-identified cells. Here we provide a set of guidelines for optimizing the method in everyday practice. We refined our strategy specifically for targeting parvalbumin-positive (PV+) cells, but have found that it works for other interneuron types as well, such as somatostatin-expressing (SOM+) and calretinin-expressing (CR+) interneurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Optogenetics, Channelrhodopsin, ChR2, cortex, in vivo recording, extracellular, Parvalbumin, interneuron, mouse, electrophysiology
A Procedure to Observe Context-induced Renewal of Pavlovian-conditioned Alcohol-seeking Behavior in Rats
Institutions: Concordia University.
Environmental contexts in which drugs of abuse are consumed can trigger craving, a subjective Pavlovian-conditioned response that can facilitate drug-seeking behavior and prompt relapse in abstinent drug users. We have developed a procedure to study the behavioral and neural processes that mediate the impact of context on alcohol-seeking behavior in rats. Following acclimation to the taste and pharmacological effects of 15% ethanol in the home cage, male Long-Evans rats receive Pavlovian discrimination training (PDT) in conditioning chambers. In each daily (Mon-Fri) PDT session, 16 trials each of two different 10 sec auditory conditioned stimuli occur. During one stimulus, the CS+, 0.2 ml of 15% ethanol is delivered into a fluid port for oral consumption. The second stimulus, the CS-, is not paired with ethanol. Across sessions, entries into the fluid port during the CS+ increase, whereas entries during the CS- stabilize at a lower level, indicating that a predictive association between the CS+ and ethanol is acquired. During PDT each chamber is equipped with a specific configuration of visual, olfactory and tactile contextual stimuli. Following PDT, extinction training is conducted in the same chamber that is now equipped with a different configuration of contextual stimuli. The CS+ and CS- are presented as before, but ethanol is withheld, which causes a gradual decline in port entries during the CS+. At test, rats are placed back into the PDT context and presented with the CS+ and CS- as before, but without ethanol. This manipulation triggers a robust and selective increase in the number of port entries made during the alcohol predictive CS+, with no change in responding during the CS-. This effect, referred to as context-induced renewal, illustrates the powerful capacity of contexts associated with alcohol consumption to stimulate alcohol-seeking behavior in response to Pavlovian alcohol cues.
Behavior, Issue 91, Behavioral neuroscience, alcoholism, relapse, addiction, Pavlovian conditioning, ethanol, reinstatement, discrimination, conditioned approach
Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
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
RNA-seq Analysis of Transcriptomes in Thrombin-treated and Control Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells
Institutions: Children's Mercy Hospital and Clinics, School of Medicine, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
The characterization of gene expression in cells via measurement of mRNA levels is a useful tool in determining how the transcriptional machinery of the cell is affected by external signals (e.g.
drug treatment), or how cells differ between a healthy state and a diseased state. With the advent and continuous refinement of next-generation DNA sequencing technology, RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) has become an increasingly popular method of transcriptome analysis to catalog all species of transcripts, to determine the transcriptional structure of all expressed genes and to quantify the changing expression levels of the total set of transcripts in a given cell, tissue or organism1,2
. RNA-seq is gradually replacing DNA microarrays as a preferred method for transcriptome analysis because it has the advantages of profiling a complete transcriptome, providing a digital type datum (copy number of any transcript) and not relying on any known genomic sequence3
Here, we present a complete and detailed protocol to apply RNA-seq to profile transcriptomes in human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with or without thrombin treatment. This protocol is based on our recent published study entitled "RNA-seq Reveals Novel Transcriptome of Genes and Their Isoforms in Human Pulmonary Microvascular Endothelial Cells Treated with Thrombin,"4
in which we successfully performed the first complete transcriptome analysis of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin using RNA-seq. It yielded unprecedented resources for further experimentation to gain insights into molecular mechanisms underlying thrombin-mediated endothelial dysfunction in the pathogenesis of inflammatory conditions, cancer, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, and provides potential new leads for therapeutic targets to those diseases.
The descriptive text of this protocol is divided into four parts. The first part describes the treatment of human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells with thrombin and RNA isolation, quality analysis and quantification. The second part describes library construction and sequencing. The third part describes the data analysis. The fourth part describes an RT-PCR validation assay. Representative results of several key steps are displayed. Useful tips or precautions to boost success in key steps are provided in the Discussion section. Although this protocol uses human pulmonary microvascular endothelial cells treated with thrombin, it can be generalized to profile transcriptomes in both mammalian and non-mammalian cells and in tissues treated with different stimuli or inhibitors, or to compare transcriptomes in cells or tissues between a healthy state and a disease state.
Genetics, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Immunology, Medicine, Genomics, Proteins, RNA-seq, Next Generation DNA Sequencing, Transcriptome, Transcription, Thrombin, Endothelial cells, high-throughput, DNA, genomic DNA, RT-PCR, PCR
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
Measurement Of Neuromagnetic Brain Function In Pre-school Children With Custom Sized MEG
Institutions: Macquarie University.
Magnetoencephalography is a technique that detects magnetic fields associated with cortical activity . The electrophysiological activity of the brain generates electric fields - that can be recorded using electroencephalography (EEG)- and their concomitant magnetic fields - detected by MEG. MEG signals are detected by specialized sensors known as superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs). Superconducting sensors require cooling with liquid helium at -270 °C. They are contained inside a vacumm-insulated helmet called a dewar, which is filled with liquid. SQUIDS are placed in fixed positions inside the helmet dewar in the helium coolant, and a subject's head is placed inside the helmet dewar for MEG measurements. The helmet dewar must be sized to satisfy opposing constraints. Clearly, it must be large enough to fit most or all of the heads in the population that will be studied. However, the helmet must also be small enough to keep most of the SQUID sensors within range of the tiny cerebral fields that they are to measure. Conventional whole-head MEG systems are designed to accommodate more than 90% of adult heads. However adult systems are not well suited for measuring brain function in pre-school chidren whose heads have a radius several cm smaller than adults. The KIT-Macquarie Brain Research Laboratory at Macquarie University uses a MEG system custom sized to fit the heads of pre-school children. This child system has 64 first-order axial gradiometers with a 50 mm baseline and is contained inside a magnetically-shielded room (MSR) together with a conventional adult-sized MEG system [3,4]. There are three main advantages of the customized helmet dewar for studying children. First, the smaller radius of the sensor configuration brings the SQUID sensors into range of the neuromagnetic signals of children's heads. Second, the smaller helmet allows full insertion of a child's head into the dewar. Full insertion is prevented in adult dewar helmets because of the smaller crown to shoulder distance in children. These two factors are fundamental in recording brain activity using MEG because neuromagnetic signals attenuate rapidly with distance. Third, the customized child helmet aids in the symmetric positioning of the head and limits the freedom of movement of the child's head within the dewar. When used with a protocol that aligns the requirements of data collection with the motivational and behavioral capacities of children, these features significantly facilitate setup, positioning, and measurement of MEG signals.
Neuroscience, Issue 36, Magnetoencephalography, Pediatrics, Brain Mapping, Language, Brain Development, Cognitive Neuroscience, Language Acquisition, Linguistics
Eye Movement Monitoring of Memory
Institutions: Rotman Research Institute, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Explicit (often verbal) reports are typically used to investigate memory (e.g. "Tell me what you remember about the person you saw at the bank yesterday."), however such reports can often be unreliable or sensitive to response bias 1
, and may be unobtainable in some participant populations. Furthermore, explicit reports only reveal when information has reached consciousness and cannot comment on when memories were accessed during processing, regardless of whether the information is subsequently accessed in a conscious manner. Eye movement monitoring (eye tracking) provides a tool by which memory can be probed without asking participants to comment on the contents of their memories, and access of such memories can be revealed on-line 2,3
. Video-based eye trackers (either head-mounted or remote) use a system of cameras and infrared markers to examine the pupil and corneal reflection in each eye as the participant views a display monitor. For head-mounted eye trackers, infrared markers are also used to determine head position to allow for head movement and more precise localization of eye position. Here, we demonstrate the use of a head-mounted eye tracking system to investigate memory performance in neurologically-intact and neurologically-impaired adults. Eye movement monitoring procedures begin with the placement of the eye tracker on the participant, and setup of the head and eye cameras. Calibration and validation procedures are conducted to ensure accuracy of eye position recording. Real-time recordings of X,Y-coordinate positions on the display monitor are then converted and used to describe periods of time in which the eye is static (i.e. fixations) versus in motion (i.e., saccades). Fixations and saccades are time-locked with respect to the onset/offset of a visual display or another external event (e.g. button press). Experimental manipulations are constructed to examine how and when patterns of fixations and saccades are altered through different types of prior experience. The influence of memory is revealed in the extent to which scanning patterns to new images differ from scanning patterns to images that have been previously studied 2, 4-5
. Memory can also be interrogated for its specificity; for instance, eye movement patterns that differ between an identical and an altered version of a previously studied image reveal the storage of the altered detail in memory 2-3, 6-8
. These indices of memory can be compared across participant populations, thereby providing a powerful tool by which to examine the organization of memory in healthy individuals, and the specific changes that occur to memory with neurological insult or decline 2-3, 8-10
Neuroscience, Issue 42, eye movement monitoring, eye tracking, memory, aging, amnesia, visual processing
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al.
, 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Volume Transfers with Serological Pipettes and Micropipettors
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are everywhere - in the air, soil, and human body as well as on inanimate surfaces like laboratory benches and computer keyboards. The ubiquity of microbes creates a copious supply of potential contaminants in a laboratory. To ensure experimental success, the number of contaminants on equipment and work surfaces must be minimized. Common among many experiments in microbiology are techniques involving the measurement and transfer of cultures containing bacterial cells or viral particles. To do so without contacting non-sterile surfaces or contaminating sterile media requires (1) preparing a sterile workspace, (2) precisely setting and accurately reading instruments for aseptic transfer of liquids, and (3) properly manipulating instruments, cultures flasks, bottles and tubes within a sterile field. Learning these procedures calls for training and practice. At first, actions should be slow, deliberate, and controlled with the goal being for aseptic technique to become second nature when working at the bench. Here we present the steps for measuring volumes using serological pipettes and micropipettors within a sterile field created by a Bunsen burner. Volumes range from microliters (μl) to milliliters (ml) depending on the instrument used. Liquids commonly transferred include sterile broth or chemical solutions as well as bacterial cultures and phage stocks. By following these procedures, students should be able to: •Work within the sterile field created by the Bunsen burner flame. •Use serological pipettes without compromising instrument sterility.• Aspirate liquids with serological pipettes, precisely reading calibrated volumes by aligning the meniscus formed by the liquid to the graduation marks on the pipette. •Keep culture bottles, flasks, tubes and their respective caps sterile during liquid transfers. •Identify different applications for plastic versus glass serological pipettes. •State accuracy limitations for micropipettors. •Precisely and accurately set volumes on micropipettors. •Know how to properly use the first and second stop on a micropipettor to aspirate and transfer correct volumes.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Microbiology, Aseptic technique, sterile field, serological pipette, micropipettors, Pipetman, cell culture, contamination
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
The α-test: Rapid Cell-free CD4 Enumeration Using Whole Saliva
Institutions: Weill Cornell Medical College , University of Missouri-Kansas City-School of Dentistry, University of Missouri Kansas City- School of Pharmacy, Bamenda, NWP, Cameroon, Mezam Polyclinic HIV/AIDS Treatment Center, Cameroon, Institute for Human Genetics and Biochemistry.
There is an urgent need for affordable CD4 enumeration to monitor HIV disease. CD4 enumeration is out of reach in resource-limited regions due to the time and temperature restrictions, technical sophistication, and cost of reagents, in particular monoclonal antibodies to measure CD4 on blood cells, the only currently acceptable method. A commonly used cost-saving and time-saving laboratory strategy is to calculate, rather than measure certain blood values. For example, LDL levels are calculated using the measured levels of total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides1
. Thus, identification of cell-free correlates that directly regulate the number of CD4+
T cells could provide an accurate method for calculating CD4 counts due to the physiological relevance of the correlates.
The number of stem cells that enter blood and are destined to become circulating CD4+
T cells is determined by the chemokine CXCL12 and its receptor CXCR4 due to their influence on locomotion2
. The process of stem cell locomotion into blood is additionally regulated by cell surface human leukocyte elastase (HLECS
) and the HLECS
-reactive active α1
proteinase inhibitor (α1
. In HIV-1 disease, α1
PI is inactivated due to disease processes 4
. In the early asymptomatic categories of HIV-1 disease, active α1
PI was found to be below normal in 100% of untreated HIV-1 patients (median=12 μM, and to achieve normal levels during the symptomatic categories4, 5
. This pattern has been attributed to immune inactivation, not to insufficient synthesis, proteolytic inactivation, or oxygenation. We observed that in HIV-1 subjects with >220 CD4 cells/μl, CD4 counts were correlated with serum levels of active α1
=0.93, p<0.0001, n=26) and inactive α1
=0.91, p<0.0001, n=26) 5
. Administration of α1
PI to HIV-1 infected and uninfected subjects resulted in dramatic increases in CD4 counts suggesting α1
PI participates in regulating the number of CD4+
T cells in blood 3
With stimulation, whole saliva contains sufficient serous exudate (plasma containing proteinaceous material that passes through blood vessel walls into saliva) to allow measurement of active α1
PI and the correlation of this measurement is evidence that it is an accurate method for calculating CD4 counts. Briefly, sialogogues such as chewing gum or citric acid stimulate the exudation of serum into whole mouth saliva. After stimulating serum exudation, the activity of serum α1
PI in saliva is measured by its capacity to inhibit elastase activity. Porcine pancreatic elastase (PPE) is a readily available inexpensive source of elastase. PPE binds to α1
PI forming a one-to-one complex that prevents PPE from cleaving its specific substrates, one of which is the colorimetric peptide, succinyl-L-Ala-L-Ala-L-Ala-p-nitroanilide (SA3
NA). Incubating saliva with a saturating concentration of PPE for 10 min at room temperature allows the binding of PPE to all the active α1
PI in saliva. The resulting inhibition of PPE by active α1
PI can be measured by adding the PPE substrate SA3
NA. (Figure 1)
. Although CD4 counts are measured in terms of blood volume (CD4 cells/μl), the concentration of α1
PI in saliva is related to the concentration of serum in saliva, not to volume of saliva since volume can vary considerably during the day and person to person6
. However, virtually all the protein in saliva is due to serum content, and the protein content of saliva is measurable7
. Thus, active α1
PI in saliva is calculated as a ratio to saliva protein content and is termed the α1
PI Index. Results presented herein demonstrate that the α1
PI Index provides an accurate and precise physiologic method for calculating CD4 counts.
Medicine, Issue 63, CD4 count, saliva, antitrypsin, hematopoiesis, T cells, HIV/AIDS, clinical
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL) for Research; Obtaining Adequate Sample Yield
Institutions: National Institute for Health Research, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital Trust, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University of Liverpool, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospital Trust, University Hospital Aintree.
We describe a research technique for fiberoptic bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) using manual hand held suction in order to remove nonadherent cells and lung lining fluid from the mucosal surface. In research environments, BAL allows sampling of innate (lung macrophage), cellular (B- and T- cells), and humoral (immunoglobulin) responses within the lung.
BAL is internationally accepted for research purposes and since 1999 the technique has been performed in > 1,000 subjects in the UK and Malawi by our group.
Our technique uses gentle hand-held suction of instilled fluid; this is designed to maximize BAL volume returned and apply minimum shear force on ciliated epithelia in order to preserve the structure and function of cells within the BAL fluid and to preserve viability to facilitate the growth of cells in ex vivo
culture. The research technique therefore uses a larger volume instillate (typically in the order of 200 ml) and employs manual suction to reduce cell damage.
Patients are given local anesthetic, offered conscious sedation (midazolam), and tolerate the procedure well with minimal side effects. Verbal and written subject information improves tolerance and written informed consent is mandatory. Safety of the subject is paramount. Subjects are carefully selected using clear inclusion and exclusion criteria.
This protocol includes a description of the potential risks, and the steps taken to mitigate them, a list of contraindications, pre- and post-procedure checks, as well as precise bronchoscopy and laboratory techniques.
Medicine, Issue 85, Research bronchoscopy, bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), fiberoptic bronchoscopy, lymphocyte, macrophage
Probing the Brain in Autism Using fMRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Newly emerging theories suggest that the brain does not function as a cohesive unit in autism, and this discordance is reflected in the behavioral symptoms displayed by individuals with autism. While structural neuroimaging findings have provided some insights into brain abnormalities in autism, the consistency of such findings is questionable. Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, has been more fruitful in this regard because autism is a disorder of dynamic processing and allows examination of communication between cortical networks, which appears to be where the underlying problem occurs in autism. Functional connectivity is defined as the temporal correlation of spatially separate neurological events1. Findings from a number of recent fMRI studies have supported the idea that there is weaker coordination between different parts of the brain that should be working together to accomplish complex social or language problems2,3,4,5,6
. One of the mysteries of autism is the coexistence of deficits in several domains along with relatively intact, sometimes enhanced, abilities. Such complex manifestation of autism calls for a global and comprehensive examination of the disorder at the neural level. A compelling recent account of the brain functioning in autism, the cortical underconnectivity theory,2,7
provides an integrating framework for the neurobiological bases of autism. The cortical underconnectivity theory of autism suggests that any language, social, or psychological function that is dependent on the integration of multiple brain regions is susceptible to disruption as the processing demand increases. In autism, the underfunctioning of integrative circuitry in the brain may cause widespread underconnectivity. In other words, people with autism may interpret information in a piecemeal fashion at the expense of the whole. Since cortical underconnectivity among brain regions, especially the frontal cortex and more posterior areas 3,6
, has now been relatively well established, we can begin to further understand brain connectivity as a critical component of autism symptomatology.
A logical next step in this direction is to examine the anatomical connections that may mediate the functional connections mentioned above. Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a relatively novel neuroimaging technique that helps probe the diffusion of water in the brain to infer the integrity of white matter fibers. In this technique, water diffusion in the brain is examined in several directions using diffusion gradients. While functional connectivity provides information about the synchronization of brain activation across different brain areas during a task or during rest, DTI helps in understanding the underlying axonal organization which may facilitate the cross-talk among brain areas. This paper will describe these techniques as valuable tools in understanding the brain in autism and the challenges involved in this line of research.
Medicine, Issue 55, Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Functional Connectivity, Neuroscience, Developmental disorders, Autism, Fractional Anisotropy
Investigating Social Cognition in Infants and Adults Using Dense Array Electroencephalography (dEEG)
Institutions: University Toronto Scarborough.
Dense array electroencephalography (d
EEG), which provides a non-invasive window for measuring brain activity and a temporal resolution unsurpassed by any other current brain imaging technology1,2
, is being used increasingly in the study of social cognitive functioning in infants and adults. While d
EEG is enabling researchers to examine brain activity patterns with unprecedented levels of sensitivity, conventional EEG recording systems continue to face certain limitations, including 1) poor spatial resolution and source localization3,4
,2) the physical discomfort for test subjects of enduring the individual application of numerous electrodes to the surface of the scalp, and 3) the complexity for researchers of learning to use multiple software packages to collect and process data. Here we present an overview of an established methodology that represents a significant improvement on conventional methodologies for studying EEG in infants and adults. Although several analytical software techniques can be used to establish indirect indices of source localization to improve the spatial resolution of d
EEG, the HydroCel Geodesic Sensor Net (HCGSN) by Electrical Geodesics, Inc. (EGI), a dense sensory array that maintains equal distances among adjacent recording electrodes on all surfaces of the scalp, further enhances spatial resolution4,5,6
compared to standard d
EEG systems. The sponge-based HCGSN can be applied rapidly and without scalp abrasion, making it ideal for use with adults7,8
, and infants12
, in both research and clinical4,5,6,13,14,15
settings. This feature allows for considerable cost and time savings by decreasing the average net application time compared to other d
EEG systems. Moreover, the HCGSN includes unified, seamless software applications for all phases of data, greatly simplifying the collection, processing, and analysis of d
The HCGSN features a low-profile electrode pedestal, which, when filled with electrolyte solution, creates a sealed microenvironment and an electrode-scalp interface. In all Geodesic d
EEG systems, EEG sensors detect changes in voltage originating from the participant's scalp, along with a small amount of electrical noise originating from the room environment. Electrical signals from all sensors of the Geodesic sensor net are received simultaneously by the amplifier, where they are automatically processed, packaged, and sent to the data-acquisition computer (DAC). Once received by the DAC, scalp electrical activity can be isolated from artifacts for analysis using the filtering and artifact detection tools included in the EGI software. Typically, the HCGSN can be used continuously for only up to two hours because the electrolyte solution dries out over time, gradually decreasing the quality of the scalp-electrode interface.
In the Parent-Infant Research Lab at the University of Toronto, we are using d
EEG to study social cognitive processes including memory, emotion, goals, intentionality, anticipation, and executive functioning in both adult and infant participants.
Neuroscience, Issue 52, Developmental Affective Neuroscience, high density EEG, social cognition, infancy, and parenting