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).
23 Related JoVE Articles!
A Rapid Technique for the Visualization of Live Immobilized Yeast Cells
Institutions: Princeton University.
We present here a simple, rapid, and extremely flexible technique for the immobilization and visualization of growing yeast cells by epifluorescence microscopy. The technique is equally suited for visualization of static yeast populations, or time courses experiments up to ten hours in length. My microscopy investigates epigenetic inheritance at the silent mating loci in S. cerevisiae. There are two silent mating loci, HML and HMR, which are normally not expressed as they are packaged in heterochromatin. In the sir1 mutant background silencing is weakened such that each locus can either be in the expressed or silenced epigenetic state, so in the population as a whole there is a mix of cells of different epigenetic states for both HML and HMR. My microscopy demonstrated that there is no relationship between the epigenetic state of HML and HMR in an individual cell. sir1 cells stochastically switch epigenetic states, establishing silencing at a previously expressed locus or expressing a previously silenced locus. My time course microscopy tracked individual sir1 cells and their offspring to score the frequency of each of the four possible epigenetic switches, and thus the stability of each of the epigenetic states in sir1 cells. See also Xu et al., Mol. Cell 2006.
Microbiology, Issue 1, yeast, HML, HMR, epigenetic, loci, silencing, cerevisiae
Identification of Disease-related Spatial Covariance Patterns using Neuroimaging Data
Institutions: The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.
The scaled subprofile model (SSM)1-4
is a multivariate PCA-based algorithm that identifies major sources of variation in patient and control group brain image data while rejecting lesser components (Figure 1
). Applied directly to voxel-by-voxel covariance data of steady-state multimodality images, an entire group image set can be reduced to a few significant linearly independent covariance patterns and corresponding subject scores. Each pattern, termed a group invariant subprofile (GIS), is an orthogonal principal component that represents a spatially distributed network of functionally interrelated brain regions. Large global mean scalar effects that can obscure smaller network-specific contributions are removed by the inherent logarithmic conversion and mean centering of the data2,5,6
. Subjects express each of these patterns to a variable degree represented by a simple scalar score that can correlate with independent clinical or psychometric descriptors7,8
. Using logistic regression analysis of subject scores (i.e.
pattern expression values), linear coefficients can be derived to combine multiple principal components into single disease-related spatial covariance patterns, i.e.
composite networks with improved discrimination of patients from healthy control subjects5,6
. Cross-validation within the derivation set can be performed using bootstrap resampling techniques9
. Forward validation is easily confirmed by direct score evaluation of the derived patterns in prospective datasets10
. Once validated, disease-related patterns can be used to score individual patients with respect to a fixed reference sample, often the set of healthy subjects that was used (with the disease group) in the original pattern derivation11
. These standardized values can in turn be used to assist in differential diagnosis12,13
and to assess disease progression and treatment effects at the network level7,14-16
. We present an example of the application of this methodology to FDG PET data of Parkinson's Disease patients and normal controls using our in-house software to derive a characteristic covariance pattern biomarker of disease.
Medicine, Issue 76, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Basal Ganglia Diseases, Parkinsonian Disorders, Parkinson Disease, Movement Disorders, Neurodegenerative Diseases, PCA, SSM, PET, imaging biomarkers, functional brain imaging, multivariate spatial covariance analysis, global normalization, differential diagnosis, PD, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
Genetic Manipulation in Δku80 Strains for Functional Genomic Analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
Institutions: The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.
Targeted genetic manipulation using homologous recombination is the method of choice for functional genomic analysis to obtain a detailed view of gene function and phenotype(s). The development of mutant strains with targeted gene deletions, targeted mutations, complemented gene function, and/or tagged genes provides powerful strategies to address gene function, particularly if these genetic manipulations can be efficiently targeted to the gene locus of interest using integration mediated by double cross over homologous recombination.
Due to very high rates of nonhomologous recombination, functional genomic analysis of Toxoplasma gondii
has been previously limited by the absence of efficient methods for targeting gene deletions and gene replacements to specific genetic loci. Recently, we abolished the major pathway of nonhomologous recombination in type I and type II strains of T. gondii
by deleting the gene encoding the KU80 protein1,2
. The Δku80
strains behave normally during tachyzoite (acute) and bradyzoite (chronic) stages in vitro
and in vivo
and exhibit essentially a 100% frequency of homologous recombination. The Δku80
strains make functional genomic studies feasible on the single gene as well as on the genome scale1-4
Here, we report methods for using type I and type II Δku80Δhxgprt
strains to advance gene targeting approaches in T. gondii
. We outline efficient methods for generating gene deletions, gene replacements, and tagged genes by targeted insertion or deletion of the hypoxanthine-xanthine-guanine phosphoribosyltransferase (HXGPRT
) selectable marker. The described gene targeting protocol can be used in a variety of ways in Δku80
strains to advance functional analysis of the parasite genome and to develop single strains that carry multiple targeted genetic manipulations. The application of this genetic method and subsequent phenotypic assays will reveal fundamental and unique aspects of the biology of T. gondii
and related significant human pathogens that cause malaria (Plasmodium
sp.) and cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium
Infectious Diseases, Issue 77, Genetics, Microbiology, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Bioengineering, Genomics, Parasitology, Pathology, Apicomplexa, Coccidia, Toxoplasma, Genetic Techniques, Gene Targeting, Eukaryota, Toxoplasma gondii, genetic manipulation, gene targeting, gene deletion, gene replacement, gene tagging, homologous recombination, DNA, sequencing
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
Monitoring Intraspecies Competition in a Bacterial Cell Population by Cocultivation of Fluorescently Labelled Strains
Institutions: Georg-August University.
Many microorganisms such as bacteria proliferate extremely fast and the populations may reach high cell densities. Small fractions of cells in a population always have accumulated mutations that are either detrimental or beneficial for the cell. If the fitness effect of a mutation provides the subpopulation with a strong selective growth advantage, the individuals of this subpopulation may rapidly outcompete and even completely eliminate their immediate fellows. Thus, small genetic changes and selection-driven accumulation of cells that have acquired beneficial mutations may lead to a complete shift of the genotype of a cell population. Here we present a procedure to monitor the rapid clonal expansion and elimination of beneficial and detrimental mutations, respectively, in a bacterial cell population over time by cocultivation of fluorescently labeled individuals of the Gram-positive model bacterium Bacillus subtilis
. The method is easy to perform and very illustrative to display intraspecies competition among the individuals in a bacterial cell population.
Cellular Biology, Issue 83, Bacillus subtilis, evolution, adaptation, selective pressure, beneficial mutation, intraspecies competition, fluorophore-labelling, Fluorescence Microscopy
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
Magnetic Tweezers for the Measurement of Twist and Torque
Institutions: Delft University of Technology.
Single-molecule techniques make it possible to investigate the behavior of individual biological molecules in solution in real time. These techniques include so-called force spectroscopy approaches such as atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, flow stretching, and magnetic tweezers. Amongst these approaches, magnetic tweezers have distinguished themselves by their ability to apply torque while maintaining a constant stretching force. Here, it is illustrated how such a “conventional” magnetic tweezers experimental configuration can, through a straightforward modification of its field configuration to minimize the magnitude of the transverse field, be adapted to measure the degree of twist in a biological molecule. The resulting configuration is termed the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers. Additionally, it is shown how further modification of the field configuration can yield a transverse field with a magnitude intermediate between that of the “conventional” magnetic tweezers and the freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, which makes it possible to directly measure the torque stored in a biological molecule. This configuration is termed the magnetic torque tweezers. The accompanying video explains in detail how the conversion of conventional magnetic tweezers into freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers and magnetic torque tweezers can be accomplished, and demonstrates the use of these techniques. These adaptations maintain all the strengths of conventional magnetic tweezers while greatly expanding the versatility of this powerful instrument.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, magnetic tweezers, magnetic torque tweezers, freely-orbiting magnetic tweezers, twist, torque, DNA, single-molecule techniques
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Measuring Neural and Behavioral Activity During Ongoing Computerized Social Interactions: An Examination of Event-Related Brain Potentials
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University.
Social exclusion is a complex social phenomenon with powerful negative consequences. Given the impact of social exclusion on mental and emotional health, an understanding of how perceptions of social exclusion develop over the course of a social interaction is important for advancing treatments aimed at lessening the harmful costs of being excluded. To date, most scientific examinations of social exclusion have looked at exclusion after a social interaction has been completed. While this has been very helpful in developing an understanding of what happens to a person following exclusion, it has not helped to clarify the moment-to-moment dynamics of the process of social exclusion. Accordingly, the current protocol was developed to obtain an improved understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of event-related brain activation that are present during social interactions. This protocol allows greater precision and sensitivity in detailing the social processes that lead people to feel as though they have been excluded from a social interaction. Importantly, the current protocol can be adapted to include research projects that vary the nature of exclusionary social interactions by altering how frequently participants are included, how long the periods of exclusion will last in each interaction, and when exclusion will take place during the social interactions. Further, the current protocol can be used to examine variables and constructs beyond those related to social exclusion. This capability to address a variety of applications across psychology by obtaining both neural and behavioral data during ongoing social interactions suggests the present protocol could be at the core of a developing area of scientific inquiry related to social interactions.
Behavior, Issue 93, Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), Social Exclusion, Neuroscience, N2, P3, Cognitive Control
fMRI Validation of fNIRS Measurements During a Naturalistic Task
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Meiji University, Dokkyo Medical University School of Medicine, Northeastern University, Yale School of Medicine.
We present a method to compare brain activity recorded with near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in a dance video game task to that recorded in a reduced version of the task using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Recently, it has been shown that fNIRS can accurately record functional brain activities equivalent to those concurrently recorded with functional magnetic resonance imaging for classic psychophysical tasks and simple finger tapping paradigms. However, an often quoted benefit of fNIRS is that the technique allows for studying neural mechanisms of complex, naturalistic behaviors that are not possible using the constrained environment of fMRI. Our goal was to extend the findings of previous studies that have shown high correlation between concurrently recorded fNIRS and fMRI signals to compare neural recordings obtained in fMRI procedures to those separately obtained in naturalistic fNIRS experiments. Specifically, we developed a modified version of the dance video game Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) to be compatible with both fMRI and fNIRS imaging procedures. In this methodology we explain the modifications to the software and hardware for compatibility with each technique as well as the scanning and calibration procedures used to obtain representative results. The results of the study show a task-related increase in oxyhemoglobin in both modalities and demonstrate that it is possible to replicate the findings of fMRI using fNIRS in a naturalistic task. This technique represents a methodology to compare fMRI imaging paradigms which utilize a reduced-world environment to fNIRS in closer approximation to naturalistic, full-body activities and behaviors. Further development of this technique may apply to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, late states of dementia, or those with magnetic susceptibility which are contraindicated for fMRI scanning.
Behavior, Issue 100, fNIRS (functional near-infrared spectroscopy), fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), motor learning, video game, multisensory integration, temporal gyrus, frontopolar, prefrontal cortex
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
Design and Use of Multiplexed Chemostat Arrays
Institutions: University of Washington.
Chemostats are continuous culture systems in which cells are grown in a tightly controlled, chemically constant environment where culture density is constrained by limiting specific nutrients.1,2
Data from chemostats are highly reproducible for the measurement of quantitative phenotypes as they provide a constant growth rate and environment at steady state. For these reasons, chemostats have become useful tools for fine-scale characterization of physiology through analysis of gene expression3-6
and other characteristics of cultures at steady-state equilibrium.7
Long-term experiments in chemostats can highlight specific trajectories that microbial populations adopt during adaptive evolution in a controlled environment. In fact, chemostats have been used for experimental evolution since their invention.8
A common result in evolution experiments is for each biological replicate to acquire a unique repertoire of mutations.9-13
This diversity suggests that there is much left to be discovered by performing evolution experiments with far greater throughput.
We present here the design and operation of a relatively simple, low cost array of miniature chemostats—or ministats—and validate their use in determination of physiology and in evolution experiments with yeast. This approach entails growth of tens of chemostats run off a single multiplexed peristaltic pump. The cultures are maintained at a 20 ml working volume, which is practical for a variety of applications. It is our hope that increasing throughput, decreasing expense, and providing detailed building and operation instructions may also motivate research and industrial application of this design as a general platform for functionally characterizing large numbers of strains, species, and growth parameters, as well as genetic or drug libraries.
Genetics, Issue 72, Molecular Biology, Microbiology, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Basic Protocols, Genomics, Eukaryota, Bacteria, Biological Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Genetic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Life sciences, chemostat, evolution, experimental evolution, Ministat, yeast, E. coli., Physiology, Continuous culture, high throughput, arrays, cell culture
The Use of Chemostats in Microbial Systems Biology
Institutions: New York University .
Cells regulate their rate of growth in response to signals from the external world. As the cell grows, diverse cellular processes must be coordinated including macromolecular synthesis, metabolism and ultimately, commitment to the cell division cycle. The chemostat, a method of experimentally controlling cell growth rate, provides a powerful means of systematically studying how growth rate impacts cellular processes - including gene expression and metabolism - and the regulatory networks that control the rate of cell growth. When maintained for hundreds of generations chemostats can be used to study adaptive evolution of microbes in environmental conditions that limit cell growth. We describe the principle of chemostat cultures, demonstrate their operation and provide examples of their various applications. Following a period of disuse after their introduction in the middle of the twentieth century, the convergence of genome-scale methodologies with a renewed interest in the regulation of cell growth and the molecular basis of adaptive evolution is stimulating a renaissance in the use of chemostats in biological research.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 80, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Molecular Biology, Computational Biology, Systems Biology, Cell Biology, Genetics, Environmental Microbiology, Biochemistry, Chemostat, growth-rate, steady state, nutrient limitation, adaptive evolution
Population Replacement Strategies for Controlling Vector Populations and the Use of Wolbachia pipientis for Genetic Drive
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University.
In this video, Jason Rasgon discusses population replacement strategies to control vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. "Population replacement" is the replacement of wild vector populations (that are competent to transmit pathogens) with those that are not competent to transmit pathogens. There are several theoretical strategies to accomplish this. One is to exploit the maternally-inherited symbiotic bacteria Wolbachia pipientis. Wolbachia is a widespread reproductive parasite that spreads in a selfish manner at the extent of its host's fitness. Jason Rasgon discusses, in detail, the basic biology of this bacterial symbiont and various ways to use it for control of vector-borne diseases.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, genetics, infectious disease, Wolbachia
Predicting the Effectiveness of Population Replacement Strategy Using Mathematical Modeling
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles.
Charles Taylor and John Marshall explain the utility of mathematical modeling for evaluating the effectiveness of population replacement strategy. Insight is given into how computational models can provide information on the population dynamics of mosquitoes and the spread of transposable elements through A. gambiae subspecies. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild are discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, popuulation, replacement, modeling, infectious disease
Preventing the Spread of Malaria and Dengue Fever Using Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
Institutions: University of California, Irvine (UCI).
In this candid interview, Anthony A. James explains how mosquito genetics can be exploited to control malaria and dengue transmission. Population replacement strategy, the idea that transgenic mosquitoes can be released into the wild to control disease transmission, is introduced, as well as the concept of genetic drive and the design criterion for an effective genetic drive system. The ethical considerations of releasing genetically-modified organisms into the wild are also discussed.
Cellular Biology, Issue 5, mosquito, malaria, dengue fever, genetics, infectious disease, Translational Research
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1
and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2
. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4
. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior.
We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers.
The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making
Intra-Operative Behavioral Tasks in Awake Humans Undergoing Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure that directs chronic, high frequency electrical stimulation to specific targets in the brain through implanted electrodes. Deep brain stimulation was first implemented as a therapeutic modality by Benabid et al.
in the late 1980s, when he used this technique to stimulate the ventral intermediate nucleus of the thalamus for the treatment of tremor 1
. Currently, the procedure is used to treat patients who fail to respond adequately to medical management for diseases such as Parkinson's, dystonia, and essential tremor. The efficacy of this procedure for the treatment of Parkinson's disease has been demonstrated in well-powered, randomized controlled trials 2
. Presently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved DBS as a treatment for patients with medically refractory essential tremor, Parkinson's disease, and dystonia. Additionally, DBS is currently being evaluated for the treatment of other psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, and epilepsy.
DBS has not only been shown to help people by improving their quality of life, it also provides researchers with the unique opportunity to study and understand the human brain. Microelectrode recordings are routinely performed during DBS surgery in order to enhance the precision of anatomical targeting. Firing patterns of individual neurons can therefore be recorded while the subject performs a behavioral task. Early studies using these data focused on descriptive aspects, including firing and burst rates, and frequency modulation 3
. More recent studies have focused on cognitive aspects of behavior in relation to neuronal activity 4,5
. This article will provide a description of the intra-operative methods used to perform behavioral tasks and record neuronal data with awake patients during DBS cases. Our exposition of the process of acquiring electrophysiological data will illuminate the current scope and limitations of intra-operative human experiments.
Medicine, Issue 47, Intra-Operative Physiology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Behavioral Neuroscience, Subthalamic Nucleus, Single-Unit Activity, Parkinson Disease, Deep Brain Stimulation
Isolation of Fidelity Variants of RNA Viruses and Characterization of Virus Mutation Frequency
Institutions: Institut Pasteur .
RNA viruses use RNA dependent RNA polymerases to replicate their genomes. The intrinsically high error rate of these enzymes is a large contributor to the generation of extreme population diversity that facilitates virus adaptation and evolution. Increasing evidence shows that the intrinsic error rates, and the resulting mutation frequencies, of RNA viruses can be modulated by subtle amino acid changes to the viral polymerase. Although biochemical assays exist for some viral RNA polymerases that permit quantitative measure of incorporation fidelity, here we describe a simple method of measuring mutation frequencies of RNA viruses that has proven to be as accurate as biochemical approaches in identifying fidelity altering mutations. The approach uses conventional virological and sequencing techniques that can be performed in most biology laboratories. Based on our experience with a number of different viruses, we have identified the key steps that must be optimized to increase the likelihood of isolating fidelity variants and generating data of statistical significance. The isolation and characterization of fidelity altering mutations can provide new insights into polymerase structure and function1-3
. Furthermore, these fidelity variants can be useful tools in characterizing mechanisms of virus adaptation and evolution4-7
Immunology, Issue 52, Polymerase fidelity, RNA virus, mutation frequency, mutagen, RNA polymerase, viral evolution
The Measurement and Treatment of Suppression in Amblyopia
Institutions: University of Auckland, McGill University , McGill University .
Amblyopia, a developmental disorder of the visual cortex, is one of the leading causes of visual dysfunction in the working age population. Current estimates put the prevalence of amblyopia at approximately 1-3%1-3
, the majority of cases being monocular2
. Amblyopia is most frequently caused by ocular misalignment (strabismus), blur induced by unequal refractive error (anisometropia), and in some cases by form deprivation.
Although amblyopia is initially caused by abnormal visual input in infancy, once established, the visual deficit often remains when normal visual input has been restored using surgery and/or refractive correction. This is because amblyopia is the result of abnormal visual cortex development rather than a problem with the amblyopic eye itself4,5
. Amblyopia is characterized by both monocular and binocular deficits6,7
which include impaired visual acuity and poor or absent stereopsis respectively. The visual dysfunction in amblyopia is often associated with a strong suppression of the inputs from the amblyopic eye under binocular viewing conditions8
. Recent work has indicated that suppression may play a central role in both the monocular and binocular deficits associated with amblyopia9,10
Current clinical tests for suppression tend to verify the presence or absence of suppression rather than giving a quantitative measurement of the degree of suppression. Here we describe a technique for measuring amblyopic suppression with a compact, portable device11,12
. The device consists of a laptop computer connected to a pair of virtual reality goggles. The novelty of the technique lies in the way we present visual stimuli to measure suppression. Stimuli are shown to the amblyopic eye at high contrast while the contrast of the stimuli shown to the non-amblyopic eye are varied. Patients perform a simple signal/noise task that allows for a precise measurement of the strength of excitatory binocular interactions. The contrast offset at which neither eye has a performance advantage is a measure of the "balance point" and is a direct measure of suppression. This technique has been validated psychophysically both in control13,14
In addition to measuring suppression this technique also forms the basis of a novel form of treatment to decrease suppression over time and improve binocular and often monocular function in adult patients with amblyopia12,15,16
. This new treatment approach can be deployed either on the goggle system described above or on a specially modified iPod touch device15
Medicine, Issue 70, Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Amblyopia, suppression, visual cortex, binocular vision, plasticity, strabismus, anisometropia
Mapping Bacterial Functional Networks and Pathways in Escherichia Coli using Synthetic Genetic Arrays
Institutions: University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Regina.
Phenotypes are determined by a complex series of physical (e.g.
protein-protein) and functional (e.g.
gene-gene or genetic) interactions (GI)1
. While physical interactions can indicate which bacterial proteins are associated as complexes, they do not necessarily reveal pathway-level functional relationships1. GI screens, in which the growth of double mutants bearing two deleted or inactivated genes is measured and compared to the corresponding single mutants, can illuminate epistatic dependencies between loci and hence provide a means to query and discover novel functional relationships2
. Large-scale GI maps have been reported for eukaryotic organisms like yeast3-7
, but GI information remains sparse for prokaryotes8
, which hinders the functional annotation of bacterial genomes. To this end, we and others have developed high-throughput quantitative bacterial GI screening methods9, 10
Here, we present the key steps required to perform quantitative E. coli
Synthetic Genetic Array (eSGA) screening procedure on a genome-scale9
, using natural bacterial conjugation and homologous recombination to systemically generate and measure the fitness of large numbers of double mutants in a colony array format.
Briefly, a robot is used to transfer, through conjugation, chloramphenicol (Cm) - marked mutant alleles from engineered Hfr (High frequency of recombination) 'donor strains' into an ordered array of kanamycin (Kan) - marked F- recipient strains. Typically, we use loss-of-function single mutants bearing non-essential gene deletions (e.g.
the 'Keio' collection11
) and essential gene hypomorphic mutations (i.e.
alleles conferring reduced protein expression, stability, or activity9, 12, 13
) to query the functional associations of non-essential and essential genes, respectively. After conjugation and ensuing genetic exchange mediated by homologous recombination, the resulting double mutants are selected on solid medium containing both antibiotics. After outgrowth, the plates are digitally imaged and colony sizes are quantitatively scored using an in-house automated image processing system14
. GIs are revealed when the growth rate of a double mutant is either significantly better or worse than expected9
. Aggravating (or negative) GIs often result between loss-of-function mutations in pairs of genes from compensatory pathways that impinge on the same essential process2
. Here, the loss of a single gene is buffered, such that either single mutant is viable. However, the loss of both pathways is deleterious and results in synthetic lethality or sickness (i.e.
slow growth). Conversely, alleviating (or positive) interactions can occur between genes in the same pathway or protein complex2
as the deletion of either gene alone is often sufficient to perturb the normal function of the pathway or complex such that additional perturbations do not reduce activity, and hence growth, further. Overall, systematically identifying and analyzing GI networks can provide unbiased, global maps of the functional relationships between large numbers of genes, from which pathway-level information missed by other approaches can be inferred9
Genetics, Issue 69, Molecular Biology, Medicine, Biochemistry, Microbiology, Aggravating, alleviating, conjugation, double mutant, Escherichia coli, genetic interaction, Gram-negative bacteria, homologous recombination, network, synthetic lethality or sickness, suppression
A Method for Selecting Structure-switching Aptamers Applied to a Colorimetric Gold Nanoparticle Assay
Institutions: Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, The Henry M. Jackson Foundation, UES, Inc..
Small molecules provide rich targets for biosensing applications due to their physiological implications as biomarkers of various aspects of human health and performance. Nucleic acid aptamers have been increasingly applied as recognition elements on biosensor platforms, but selecting aptamers toward small molecule targets requires special design considerations. This work describes modification and critical steps of a method designed to select structure-switching aptamers to small molecule targets. Binding sequences from a DNA library hybridized to complementary DNA capture probes on magnetic beads are separated from nonbinders via a target-induced change in conformation. This method is advantageous because sequences binding the support matrix (beads) will not be further amplified, and it does not require immobilization of the target molecule. However, the melting temperature of the capture probe and library is kept at or slightly above RT, such that sequences that dehybridize based on thermodynamics will also be present in the supernatant solution. This effectively limits the partitioning efficiency (ability to separate target binding sequences from nonbinders), and therefore many selection rounds will be required to remove background sequences. The reported method differs from previous structure-switching aptamer selections due to implementation of negative selection steps, simplified enrichment monitoring, and extension of the length of the capture probe following selection enrichment to provide enhanced stringency. The selected structure-switching aptamers are advantageous in a gold nanoparticle assay platform that reports the presence of a target molecule by the conformational change of the aptamer. The gold nanoparticle assay was applied because it provides a simple, rapid colorimetric readout that is beneficial in a clinical or deployed environment. Design and optimization considerations are presented for the assay as proof-of-principle work in buffer to provide a foundation for further extension of the work toward small molecule biosensing in physiological fluids.
Molecular Biology, Issue 96, Aptamer, structure-switching, SELEX, small molecule, cortisol, next generation sequencing, gold nanoparticle, assay