We describe a protocol for the rapid and sensitive quantification of disease severity in mouse models of cerebella ataxia. It is derived from previously published phenotype assessments in several disease models, including spinocerebellar ataxias, Huntington s disease and spinobulbar muscular atrophy. Measures include hind limb clasping, ledge test, gait and kyphosis. Each measure is recorded on a scale of 0-3, with a combined total of 0-12 for all four measures. The results effectively discriminate between affected and non-affected individuals, while also quantifying the temporal progression of neurodegenerative disease phenotypes. Measures may be analyzed individually or combined into a composite phenotype score for greater statistical power. The ideal combination of the four described measures will depend upon the disorder in question. We present an example of the protocol used to assess disease severity in a transgenic mouse model of spinocerebellar ataxia type 7 (SCA7).
Albert R. La Spada and Gwenn A. Garden contributed to this manuscript equally.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
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
Getting to Compliance in Forced Exercise in Rodents: A Critical Standard to Evaluate Exercise Impact in Aging-related Disorders and Disease
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
There is a major increase in the awareness of the positive impact of exercise on improving several disease states with neurobiological basis; these include improving cognitive function and physical performance. As a result, there is an increase in the number of animal studies employing exercise. It is argued that one intrinsic value of forced exercise is that the investigator has control over the factors that can influence the impact of exercise on behavioral outcomes, notably exercise frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise regimen. However, compliance in forced exercise regimens may be an issue, particularly if potential confounds of employing foot-shock are to be avoided. It is also important to consider that since most cognitive and locomotor impairments strike in the aged individual, determining impact of exercise on these impairments should consider using aged rodents with a highest possible level of compliance to ensure minimal need for test subjects. Here, the pertinent steps and considerations necessary to achieve nearly 100% compliance to treadmill exercise in an aged rodent model will be presented and discussed. Notwithstanding the particular exercise regimen being employed by the investigator, our protocol should be of use to investigators that are particularly interested in the potential impact of forced exercise on aging-related impairments, including aging-related Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease.
Behavior, Issue 90, Exercise, locomotor, Parkinson’s disease, aging, treadmill, bradykinesia, Parkinsonism
A Multi-Modal Approach to Assessing Recovery in Youth Athletes Following Concussion
Institutions: Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Concussion is one of the most commonly reported injuries amongst children and youth involved in sport participation. Following a concussion, youth can experience a range of short and long term neurobehavioral symptoms (somatic, cognitive and emotional/behavioral) that can have a significant impact on one’s participation in daily activities and pursuits of interest (e.g.,
school, sports, work, family/social life, etc.
). Despite this, there remains a paucity in clinically driven research aimed specifically at exploring concussion within the youth sport population, and more specifically, multi-modal approaches to measuring recovery. This article provides an overview of a novel and multi-modal approach to measuring recovery amongst youth athletes following concussion. The presented approach involves the use of both pre-injury/baseline testing and post-injury/follow-up testing to assess performance across a wide variety of domains (post-concussion symptoms, cognition, balance, strength, agility/motor skills and resting state heart rate variability). The goal of this research is to gain a more objective and accurate understanding of recovery following concussion in youth athletes (ages 10-18 years). Findings from this research can help to inform the development and use of improved approaches to concussion management and rehabilitation specific to the youth sport community.
Medicine, Issue 91, concussion, children, youth, athletes, assessment, management, rehabilitation
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
Ultrasound Assessment of Endothelial-Dependent Flow-Mediated Vasodilation of the Brachial Artery in Clinical Research
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, San Francisco.
The vascular endothelium is a monolayer of cells that cover the interior of blood vessels and provide both structural and functional roles. The endothelium acts as a barrier, preventing leukocyte adhesion and aggregation, as well as controlling permeability to plasma components. Functionally, the endothelium affects vessel tone.
Endothelial dysfunction is an imbalance between the chemical species which regulate vessel tone, thombroresistance, cellular proliferation and mitosis. It is the first step in atherosclerosis and is associated with coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, heart failure, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.
The first demonstration of endothelial dysfunction involved direct infusion of acetylcholine and quantitative coronary angiography. Acetylcholine binds to muscarinic receptors on the endothelial cell surface, leading to an increase of intracellular calcium and increased nitric oxide (NO) production. In subjects with an intact endothelium, vasodilation was observed while subjects with endothelial damage experienced paradoxical vasoconstriction.
There exists a non-invasive, in vivo
method for measuring endothelial function in peripheral arteries using high-resolution B-mode ultrasound. The endothelial function of peripheral arteries is closely related to coronary artery function. This technique measures the percent diameter change in the brachial artery during a period of reactive hyperemia following limb ischemia.
This technique, known as endothelium-dependent, flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD) has value in clinical research settings. However, a number of physiological and technical issues can affect the accuracy of the results and appropriate guidelines for the technique have been published. Despite the guidelines, FMD remains heavily operator dependent and presents a steep learning curve. This article presents a standardized method for measuring FMD in the brachial artery on the upper arm and offers suggestions to reduce intra-operator variability.
Medicine, Issue 92, endothelial function, endothelial dysfunction, brachial artery, peripheral artery disease, ultrasound, vascular, endothelium, cardiovascular disease.
The Use of the Puzzle Box as a Means of Assessing the Efficacy of Environmental Enrichment
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Sydney.
Environmental enrichment can dramatically influence the development and function of neural circuits. Further, enrichment has been shown to successfully delay the onset of symptoms in models of Huntington’s disease 1-4
, suggesting environmental factors can evoke a neuroprotective effect against the progressive, cellular level damage observed in neurodegenerative disorders. The ways in which an animal can be environmentally enriched, however, can vary considerably. Further, there is no straightforward manner in which the effects of environmental enrichment can be assessed: most methods require either fairly complicated behavioral paradigms and/or postmortem anatomical/physiological analyses. This protocol describes the use of a simple and inexpensive behavioral assay, the Puzzle Box 5-7
as a robust means of determining the efficacy of increased social, sensory and motor stimulation on mice compared to cohorts raised in standard laboratory conditions. This simple problem solving task takes advantage of a rodent’s innate desire to avoid open enclosures by seeking shelter. Cognitive ability is assessed by adding increasingly complex impediments to the shelter’s entrance. The time a given subject takes to successfully remove the obstructions and enter the shelter serves as the primary metric for task performance. This method could provide a reliable means of rapidly assessing the efficacy of different enrichment protocols on cognitive function, thus paving the way for systematically determining the role specific environmental factors play in delaying the onset of neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disease.
Behavior, Issue 94, Neuroscience, Mouse, Environmental Enrichment, Puzzle Box, Cognitive Behavior, Behavioral Task, Neuroprotection
A Cognitive Paradigm to Investigate Interference in Working Memory by Distractions and Interruptions
Institutions: University of New Mexico, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco.
Goal-directed behavior is often impaired by interference from the external environment, either in the form of distraction by irrelevant information that one attempts to ignore, or by interrupting information that demands attention as part of another (secondary) task goal. Both forms of external interference have been shown to detrimentally impact the ability to maintain information in working memory (WM). Emerging evidence suggests that these different types of external interference exert different effects on behavior and may be mediated by distinct neural mechanisms. Better characterizing the distinct neuro-behavioral impact of irrelevant distractions versus attended interruptions is essential for advancing an understanding of top-down attention, resolution of external interference, and how these abilities become degraded in healthy aging and in neuropsychiatric conditions. This manuscript describes a novel cognitive paradigm developed the Gazzaley lab that has now been modified into several distinct versions used to elucidate behavioral and neural correlates of interference, by to-be-ignored distractors
versus to-be-attended interruptors
. Details are provided on variants of this paradigm for investigating interference in visual and auditory modalities, at multiple levels of stimulus complexity, and with experimental timing optimized for electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. In addition, data from younger and older adult participants obtained using this paradigm is reviewed and discussed in the context of its relationship with the broader literatures on external interference and age-related neuro-behavioral changes in resolving interference in working memory.
Behavior, Issue 101, Attention, interference, distraction, interruption, working memory, aging, multi-tasking, top-down attention, EEG, fMRI
Practical Methodology of Cognitive Tasks Within a Navigational Assessment
Institutions: Laurentian University, Laurentian University.
This paper describes an approach for measuring navigation accuracy relative to cognitive skills. The methodology behind the assessment will thus be clearly outlined in a step-by-step manner. Navigational skills are important when trying to find symbols within a speech-generating device (SGD) that has a dynamic screen and taxonomical organization. The following skills have been found to impact children’s ability to find symbols when navigating within the levels of an SGD: sustained attention, categorization, cognitive flexibility, and fluid reasoning1,2
. According to past studies, working memory was not correlated with navigation1,2
The materials needed for this method include a computerized tablet, an augmentative and alternative communication application, a booklet of symbols, and the Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised (Leiter-R)3
. This method has been used in two previous studies. Robillard, Mayer-Crittenden, Roy-Charland, Minor-Corriveau and Bélanger1
assessed typically developing children, while Rondeau, Robillard and Roy-Charland2
assessed children and adolescents with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The direct observation of this method will facilitate the replication of this study for researchers. It will also help clinicians that work with children who have complex communication needs to determine the children’s ability to navigate an SGD with taxonomical categorization.
Behavior, Issue 100, Augmentative and alternative communication, navigation, cognition, assessment, speech-language pathology, children
Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes. Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements. Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning. Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity. The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
Computerized Dynamic Posturography for Postural Control Assessment in Patients with Intermittent Claudication
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Hull, Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals, Addenbrookes Hospital.
Computerized dynamic posturography with the EquiTest is an objective technique for measuring postural strategies under challenging static and dynamic conditions. As part of a diagnostic assessment, the early detection of postural deficits is important so that appropriate and targeted interventions can be prescribed. The Sensory Organization Test (SOT) on the EquiTest determines an individual's use of the sensory systems (somatosensory, visual, and vestibular) that are responsible for postural control. Somatosensory and visual input are altered by the calibrated sway-referenced support surface and visual surround, which move in the anterior-posterior direction in response to the individual's postural sway. This creates a conflicting sensory experience. The Motor Control Test (MCT) challenges postural control by creating unexpected postural disturbances in the form of backwards and forwards translations. The translations are graded in magnitude and the time to recover from the perturbation is computed.
Intermittent claudication, the most common symptom of peripheral arterial disease, is characterized by a cramping pain in the lower limbs and caused by muscle ischemia secondary to reduced blood flow to working muscles during physical exertion. Claudicants often display poor balance, making them susceptible to falls and activity avoidance. The Ankle Brachial Pressure Index (ABPI) is a noninvasive method for indicating the presence of peripheral arterial disease and intermittent claudication, a common symptom in the lower extremities. ABPI is measured as the highest systolic pressure from either the dorsalis pedis or posterior tibial artery divided by the highest brachial artery systolic pressure from either arm. This paper will focus on the use of computerized dynamic posturography in the assessment of balance in claudicants.
Medicine, Issue 82, Posture, Computerized dynamic posturography, Ankle brachial pressure index, Peripheral arterial disease, Intermittent claudication, Balance, Posture, EquiTest, Sensory Organization Test, Motor Control Test
Basics of Multivariate Analysis in Neuroimaging Data
Institutions: Columbia University.
Multivariate analysis techniques for neuroimaging data have recently received increasing attention as they have many attractive features that cannot be easily realized by the more commonly used univariate, voxel-wise, techniques1,5,6,7,8,9
. Multivariate approaches evaluate correlation/covariance of activation across brain regions, rather than proceeding on a voxel-by-voxel basis. Thus, their results can be more easily interpreted as a signature of neural networks. Univariate approaches, on the other hand, cannot directly address interregional correlation in the brain. Multivariate approaches can also result in greater statistical power when compared with univariate techniques, which are forced to employ very stringent corrections for voxel-wise multiple comparisons. Further, multivariate techniques also lend themselves much better to prospective application of results from the analysis of one dataset to entirely new datasets. Multivariate techniques are thus well placed to provide information about mean differences and correlations with behavior, similarly to univariate approaches, with potentially greater statistical power and better reproducibility checks. In contrast to these advantages is the high barrier of entry to the use of multivariate approaches, preventing more widespread application in the community. To the neuroscientist becoming familiar with multivariate analysis techniques, an initial survey of the field might present a bewildering variety of approaches that, although algorithmically similar, are presented with different emphases, typically by people with mathematics backgrounds. We believe that multivariate analysis techniques have sufficient potential to warrant better dissemination. Researchers should be able to employ them in an informed and accessible manner. The current article is an attempt at a didactic introduction of multivariate techniques for the novice. A conceptual introduction is followed with a very simple application to a diagnostic data set from the Alzheimer s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), clearly demonstrating the superior performance of the multivariate approach.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, fMRI, PET, multivariate analysis, cognitive neuroscience, clinical neuroscience
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
Quantification of Atherosclerotic Plaque Activity and Vascular Inflammation using [18-F] Fluorodeoxyglucose Positron Emission Tomography/Computed Tomography (FDG-PET/CT)
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Perelman School of Medicine.
Conventional non-invasive imaging modalities of atherosclerosis such as coronary artery calcium (CAC)1
and carotid intimal medial thickness (C-IMT)2
provide information about the burden of disease. However, despite multiple validation studies of CAC3-5
, and C-IMT2,6
, these modalities do not accurately assess plaque characteristics7,8
, and the composition and inflammatory state of the plaque determine its stability and, therefore, the risk of clinical events9-13
F]-2-fluoro-2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG) imaging using positron-emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) has been extensively studied in oncologic metabolism14,15
. Studies using animal models and immunohistochemistry in humans show that FDG-PET/CT is exquisitely sensitive for detecting macrophage activity16
, an important source of cellular inflammation in vessel walls. More recently, we17,18
and others have shown that FDG-PET/CT enables highly precise, novel measurements of inflammatory activity of activity of atherosclerotic plaques in large and medium-sized arteries9,16,19,20
. FDG-PET/CT studies have many advantages over other imaging modalities: 1) high contrast resolution; 2) quantification of plaque volume and metabolic activity allowing for multi-modal atherosclerotic plaque quantification; 3) dynamic, real-time, in vivo
imaging; 4) minimal operator dependence. Finally, vascular inflammation detected by FDG-PET/CT has been shown to predict cardiovascular (CV) events independent of traditional risk factors21,22
and is also highly associated with overall burden of atherosclerosis23
. Plaque activity by FDG-PET/CT is modulated by known beneficial CV interventions such as short term (12 week) statin therapy24
as well as longer term therapeutic lifestyle changes (16 months)25
The current methodology for quantification of FDG uptake in atherosclerotic plaque involves measurement of the standardized uptake value (SUV) of an artery of interest and of the venous blood pool in order to calculate a target to background ratio (TBR), which is calculated by dividing the arterial SUV by the venous blood pool SUV. This method has shown to represent a stable, reproducible phenotype over time, has a high sensitivity for detection of vascular inflammation, and also has high inter-and intra-reader reliability26
. Here we present our methodology for patient preparation, image acquisition, and quantification of atherosclerotic plaque activity and vascular inflammation using SUV, TBR, and a global parameter called the metabolic volumetric product (MVP). These approaches may be applied to assess vascular inflammation in various study samples of interest in a consistent fashion as we have shown in several prior publications.9,20,27,28
Medicine, Issue 63, FDG-PET/CT, atherosclerosis, vascular inflammation, quantitative radiology, imaging
Development of an Audio-based Virtual Gaming Environment to Assist with Navigation Skills in the Blind
Institutions: Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, University of Chile .
Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
Medicine, Issue 73, Behavior, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurobiology, Ophthalmology, Psychology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Technology, Industry, virtual environments, action video games, blind, audio, rehabilitation, indoor navigation, spatial cognitive map, Audio-based Environment Simulator, virtual reality, cognitive psychology, clinical techniques
Measuring Frailty in HIV-infected Individuals. Identification of Frail Patients is the First Step to Amelioration and Reversal of Frailty
Institutions: University of Arizona, University of Arizona.
A simple, validated protocol consisting of a battery of tests is available to identify elderly patients with frailty syndrome. This syndrome of decreased reserve and resistance to stressors increases in incidence with increasing age. In the elderly, frailty may pursue a step-wise loss of function from non-frail to pre-frail to frail. We studied frailty in HIV-infected patients and found that ~20% are frail using the Fried phenotype using stringent criteria developed for the elderly1,2
. In HIV infection the syndrome occurs at a younger age.
HIV patients were checked for 1) unintentional weight loss; 2) slowness as determined by walking speed; 3) weakness as measured by a grip dynamometer; 4) exhaustion by responses to a depression scale; and 5) low physical activity was determined by assessing kilocalories expended in a week's time. Pre-frailty was present with any two of five criteria and frailty was present if any three of the five criteria were abnormal.
The tests take approximately 10-15 min to complete and they can be performed by medical assistants during routine clinic visits. Test results are scored by referring to standard tables. Understanding which of the five components contribute to frailty in an individual patient can allow the clinician to address relevant underlying problems, many of which are not evident in routine HIV clinic visits.
Medicine, Issue 77, Infection, Virology, Infectious Diseases, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Retroviridae Infections, Body Weight Changes, Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures, Physical Examination, Muscle Strength, Behavior, Virus Diseases, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Musculoskeletal and Neural Physiological Phenomena, HIV, HIV-1, AIDS, Frailty, Depression, Weight Loss, Weakness, Slowness, Exhaustion, Aging, clinical techniques
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
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions
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
Modulating Cognition Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of the Cerebellum
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Numerous studies have emerged recently that demonstrate the possibility of modulating, and in some cases enhancing, cognitive processes by exciting brain regions involved in working memory and attention using transcranial electrical brain stimulation. Some researchers now believe the cerebellum supports cognition, possibly via a remote neuromodulatory effect on the prefrontal cortex. This paper describes a procedure for investigating a role for the cerebellum in cognition using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and a selection of information-processing tasks of varying task difficulty, which have previously been shown to involve working memory, attention and cerebellar functioning. One task is called the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT) and the other a novel variant of this task called the Paced Auditory Serial Subtraction Task (PASST). A verb generation task and its two controls (noun and verb reading) were also investigated. All five tasks were performed by three separate groups of participants, before and after the modulation of cortico-cerebellar connectivity using anodal, cathodal or sham tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. The procedure demonstrates how performance (accuracy, verbal response latency and variability) could be selectively improved after cathodal stimulation, but only during tasks that the participants rated as difficult, and not easy. Performance was unchanged by anodal or sham stimulation. These findings demonstrate a role for the cerebellum in cognition, whereby activity in the left prefrontal cortex is likely dis-inhibited by cathodal tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. Transcranial brain stimulation is growing in popularity in various labs and clinics. However, the after-effects of tDCS are inconsistent between individuals and not always polarity-specific, and may even be task- or load-specific, all of which requires further study. Future efforts might also be guided towards neuro-enhancement in cerebellar patients presenting with cognitive impairment once a better understanding of brain stimulation mechanisms has emerged.
Behavior, Issue 96, Cognition, working memory, tDCS, cerebellum, brain stimulation, neuro-modulation, neuro-enhancement