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The BAARA (Biological AutomAted RAdiotracking) system: a new approach in ecological field studies.
PUBLISHED: 02-26-2015
Radiotracking is an important and often the only possible method to explore specific habits and the behaviour of animals, but it has proven to be very demanding and time-consuming, especially when frequent positioning of a large group is required. Our aim was to address this issue by making the process partially automated, to mitigate the demands and related costs. This paper presents a novel automated tracking system that consists of a network of automated tracking stations deployed within the target area. Each station reads the signals from telemetry transmitters, estimates the bearing and distance of the tagged animals and records their position. The station is capable of tracking a theoretically unlimited number of transmitters on different frequency channels with the period of 5-15 seconds per single channel. An ordinary transmitter that fits within the supported frequency band might be used with BAARA (Biological AutomAted RAdiotracking); an extra option is the use of a custom-programmable transmitter with configurable operational parameters, such as the precise frequency channel or the transmission parameters. This new approach to a tracking system was tested for its applicability in a series of field and laboratory tests. BAARA has been tested within fieldwork explorations of Rousettus aegyptiacus during field trips to Dakhla oasis in Egypt. The results illustrate the novel perspective which automated radiotracking opens for the study of spatial behaviour, particularly in addressing topics in the domain of population ecology.
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).
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Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Authors: Mary E. Ogdahl, Alan D. Steinman, Maggie E. Weinert.
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration. Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release. The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
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From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Authors: Wen-Ting Tsai, Ahmed Hassan, Purbasha Sarkar, Joaquin Correa, Zoltan Metlagel, Danielle M. Jorgens, Manfred Auer.
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
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Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Authors: F. Aura Kullmann, Stephanie L. Daugherty, William C. de Groat, Lori A. Birder.
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e. smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions. The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release. The in vitro smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
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Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Authors: Andreas Florian Haas, Ben Knowles, Yan Wei Lim, Tracey McDole Somera, Linda Wegley Kelly, Mark Hatay, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
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Using plusTipTracker Software to Measure Microtubule Dynamics in Xenopus laevis Growth Cones
Authors: Alina Stout, Salvatore D'Amico, Tiffany Enzenbacher, Patrick Ebbert, Laura Anne Lowery.
Institutions: Boston College.
Microtubule (MT) plus-end-tracking proteins (+TIPs) localize to the growing plus-ends of MTs and regulate MT dynamics1,2. One of the most well-known and widely-utilized +TIPs for analyzing MT dynamics is the End-Binding protein, EB1, which binds all growing MT plus-ends, and thus, is a marker for MT polymerization1. Many studies of EB1 behavior within growth cones have used time-consuming and biased computer-assisted, hand-tracking methods to analyze individual MTs1-3. Our approach is to quantify global parameters of MT dynamics using the software package, plusTipTracker4, following the acquisition of high-resolution, live images of tagged EB1 in cultured embryonic growth cones5. This software is a MATLAB-based, open-source, user-friendly package that combines automated detection, tracking, visualization, and analysis for movies of fluorescently-labeled +TIPs. Here, we present the protocol for using plusTipTracker for the analysis of fluorescently-labeled +TIP comets in cultured Xenopus laevis growth cones. However, this software can also be used to characterize MT dynamics in various cell types6-8.
Molecular Biology, Issue 91, plusTipTracker, microtubule plus-end-tracking proteins, EB1, growth cone, Xenopus laevis, live cell imaging analysis, microtubule dynamics
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A Hybrid DNA Extraction Method for the Qualitative and Quantitative Assessment of Bacterial Communities from Poultry Production Samples
Authors: Michael J. Rothrock Jr., Kelli L. Hiett, John Gamble, Andrew C. Caudill, Kellie M. Cicconi-Hogan, J. Gregory Caporaso.
Institutions: USDA-Agricultural Research Service, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, Oregon State University, University of Georgia, Northern Arizona University.
The efficacy of DNA extraction protocols can be highly dependent upon both the type of sample being investigated and the types of downstream analyses performed. Considering that the use of new bacterial community analysis techniques (e.g., microbiomics, metagenomics) is becoming more prevalent in the agricultural and environmental sciences and many environmental samples within these disciplines can be physiochemically and microbiologically unique (e.g., fecal and litter/bedding samples from the poultry production spectrum), appropriate and effective DNA extraction methods need to be carefully chosen. Therefore, a novel semi-automated hybrid DNA extraction method was developed specifically for use with environmental poultry production samples. This method is a combination of the two major types of DNA extraction: mechanical and enzymatic. A two-step intense mechanical homogenization step (using bead-beating specifically formulated for environmental samples) was added to the beginning of the “gold standard” enzymatic DNA extraction method for fecal samples to enhance the removal of bacteria and DNA from the sample matrix and improve the recovery of Gram-positive bacterial community members. Once the enzymatic extraction portion of the hybrid method was initiated, the remaining purification process was automated using a robotic workstation to increase sample throughput and decrease sample processing error. In comparison to the strict mechanical and enzymatic DNA extraction methods, this novel hybrid method provided the best overall combined performance when considering quantitative (using 16S rRNA qPCR) and qualitative (using microbiomics) estimates of the total bacterial communities when processing poultry feces and litter samples.
Molecular Biology, Issue 94, DNA extraction, poultry, environmental, feces, litter, semi-automated, microbiomics, qPCR
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Automated Quantification of Hematopoietic Cell – Stromal Cell Interactions in Histological Images of Undecalcified Bone
Authors: Sandra Zehentmeier, Zoltan Cseresnyes, Juan Escribano Navarro, Raluca A. Niesner, Anja E. Hauser.
Institutions: German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, German Rheumatism Research Center, a Leibniz Institute, Max-Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, Wimasis GmbH, Charité - University of Medicine.
Confocal microscopy is the method of choice for the analysis of localization of multiple cell types within complex tissues such as the bone marrow. However, the analysis and quantification of cellular localization is difficult, as in many cases it relies on manual counting, thus bearing the risk of introducing a rater-dependent bias and reducing interrater reliability. Moreover, it is often difficult to judge whether the co-localization between two cells results from random positioning, especially when cell types differ strongly in the frequency of their occurrence. Here, a method for unbiased quantification of cellular co-localization in the bone marrow is introduced. The protocol describes the sample preparation used to obtain histological sections of whole murine long bones including the bone marrow, as well as the staining protocol and the acquisition of high-resolution images. An analysis workflow spanning from the recognition of hematopoietic and non-hematopoietic cell types in 2-dimensional (2D) bone marrow images to the quantification of the direct contacts between those cells is presented. This also includes a neighborhood analysis, to obtain information about the cellular microenvironment surrounding a certain cell type. In order to evaluate whether co-localization of two cell types is the mere result of random cell positioning or reflects preferential associations between the cells, a simulation tool which is suitable for testing this hypothesis in the case of hematopoietic as well as stromal cells, is used. This approach is not limited to the bone marrow, and can be extended to other tissues to permit reproducible, quantitative analysis of histological data.
Developmental Biology, Issue 98, Image analysis, neighborhood analysis, bone marrow, stromal cells, bone marrow niches, simulation, bone cryosectioning, bone histology
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Long-term Continuous EEG Monitoring in Small Rodent Models of Human Disease Using the Epoch Wireless Transmitter System
Authors: Andrew Zayachkivsky, Mark J. Lehmkuhle, F. Edward Dudek.
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine, University of Utah.
Many progressive neurologic diseases in humans, such as epilepsy, require pre-clinical animal models that slowly develop the disease in order to test interventions at various stages of the disease process. These animal models are particularly difficult to implement in immature rodents, a classic model organism for laboratory study of these disorders. Recording continuous EEG in young animal models of seizures and other neurological disorders presents a technical challenge due to the small physical size of young rodents and their dependence on the dam prior to weaning. Therefore, there is not only a clear need for improving pre-clinical research that will better identify those therapies suitable for translation to the clinic but also a need for new devices capable of recording continuous EEG in immature rodents. Here, we describe the technology behind and demonstrate the use of a novel miniature telemetry system, specifically engineered for use in immature rats or mice, which is also effective for use in adult animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 101, Epilepsy, Seizures, Wireless, Pre-Clinical, Rat, Mouse, Hypoxia, Ischemia, Neonate
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Use of Chironomidae (Diptera) Surface-Floating Pupal Exuviae as a Rapid Bioassessment Protocol for Water Bodies
Authors: Petra Kranzfelder, Alyssa M. Anderson, Alexander T. Egan, Jane E. Mazack, R. William Bouchard, Jr., Moriya M. Rufer, Leonard C. Ferrington, Jr..
Institutions: University of Minnesota, Northern State University, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, RMB Environmental Laboratories, Inc..
Rapid bioassessment protocols using benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages have been successfully used to assess human impacts on water quality. Unfortunately, traditional benthic larval sampling methods, such as the dip-net, can be time-consuming and expensive. An alternative protocol involves collection of Chironomidae surface-floating pupal exuviae (SFPE). Chironomidae is a species-rich family of flies (Diptera) whose immature stages typically occur in aquatic habitats. Adult chironomids emerge from the water, leaving their pupal skins, or exuviae, floating on the water’s surface. Exuviae often accumulate along banks or behind obstructions by action of the wind or water current, where they can be collected to assess chironomid diversity and richness. Chironomids can be used as important biological indicators, since some species are more tolerant to pollution than others. Therefore, the relative abundance and species composition of collected SFPE reflect changes in water quality. Here, methods associated with field collection, laboratory processing, slide mounting, and identification of chironomid SFPE are described in detail. Advantages of the SFPE method include minimal disturbance at a sampling area, efficient and economical sample collection and laboratory processing, ease of identification, applicability in nearly all aquatic environments, and a potentially more sensitive measure of ecosystem stress. Limitations include the inability to determine larval microhabitat use and inability to identify pupal exuviae to species if they have not been associated with adult males.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 101, biological monitoring, aquatic systems, aquatic ecology, water quality, macroinvertebrates, midge, Chironomid Pupal Exuviae Technique, rapid bioassessment protocol
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The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
Authors: Robert D. Kirch, Richard C. Pinnell, Ulrich G. Hofmann, Jean-Christophe Cassel.
Institutions: University Hospital Freiburg, UMR 7364 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Neuropôle de Strasbourg.
Spatial cognition research in rodents typically employs the use of maze tasks, whose attributes vary from one maze to the next. These tasks vary by their behavioral flexibility and required memory duration, the number of goals and pathways, and also the overall task complexity. A confounding feature in many of these tasks is the lack of control over the strategy employed by the rodents to reach the goal, e.g., allocentric (declarative-like) or egocentric (procedural) based strategies. The double-H maze is a novel water-escape memory task that addresses this issue, by allowing the experimenter to direct the type of strategy learned during the training period. The double-H maze is a transparent device, which consists of a central alleyway with three arms protruding on both sides, along with an escape platform submerged at the extremity of one of these arms. Rats can be trained using an allocentric strategy by alternating the start position in the maze in an unpredictable manner (see protocol 1; §4.7), thus requiring them to learn the location of the platform based on the available allothetic cues. Alternatively, an egocentric learning strategy (protocol 2; §4.8) can be employed by releasing the rats from the same position during each trial, until they learn the procedural pattern required to reach the goal. This task has been proven to allow for the formation of stable memory traces. Memory can be probed following the training period in a misleading probe trial, in which the starting position for the rats alternates. Following an egocentric learning paradigm, rats typically resort to an allocentric-based strategy, but only when their initial view on the extra-maze cues differs markedly from their original position. This task is ideally suited to explore the effects of drugs/perturbations on allocentric/egocentric memory performance, as well as the interactions between these two memory systems.
Behavior, Issue 101, Double-H maze, spatial memory, procedural memory, consolidation, allocentric, egocentric, habits, rodents, video tracking system
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Assessment of Social Cognition in Non-human Primates Using a Network of Computerized Automated Learning Device (ALDM) Test Systems
Authors: Joël Fagot, Yousri Marzouki, Pascal Huguet, Julie Gullstrand, Nicolas Claidière.
Institutions: Aix-Marseille University.
Fagot & Paleressompoulle1 and Fagot & Bonte2 have published an automated learning device (ALDM) for the study of cognitive abilities of monkeys maintained in semi-free ranging conditions. Data accumulated during the last five years have consistently demonstrated the efficiency of this protocol to investigate individual/physical cognition in monkeys, and have further shown that this procedure reduces stress level during animal testing3. This paper demonstrates that networks of ALDM can also be used to investigate different facets of social cognition and in-group expressed behaviors in monkeys, and describes three illustrative protocols developed for that purpose. The first study demonstrates how ethological assessments of social behavior and computerized assessments of cognitive performance could be integrated to investigate the effects of socially exhibited moods on the cognitive performance of individuals. The second study shows that batteries of ALDM running in parallel can provide unique information on the influence of the presence of others on task performance. Finally, the last study shows that networks of ALDM test units can also be used to study issues related to social transmission and cultural evolution. Combined together, these three studies demonstrate clearly that ALDM testing is a highly promising experimental tool for bridging the gap in the animal literature between research on individual cognition and research on social cognition.
Behavior, Issue 99, Baboon, automated learning device, cultural transmission, emotion, social facilitation, cognition, operant conditioning.
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Behavioral Phenotyping of Murine Disease Models with the Integrated Behavioral Station (INBEST)
Authors: Boris Sakic, Marcella P. A. Cooper, Sarah E. Taylor, Milica Stojanovic, Bosa Zagorac, Minesh Kapadia.
Institutions: McMaster University, McMaster University, McMaster University.
Due to rapid advances in genetic engineering, small rodents have become the preferred subjects in many disciplines of biomedical research. In studies of chronic CNS disorders, there is an increasing demand for murine models with high validity at the behavioral level. However, multiple pathogenic mechanisms and complex functional deficits often impose challenges to reliably measure and interpret behavior of chronically sick mice. Therefore, the assessment of peripheral pathology and a behavioral profile at several time points using a battery of tests are required. Video-tracking, behavioral spectroscopy, and remote acquisition of physiological measures are emerging technologies that allow for comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased behavioral analysis in a home-base-like setting. This report describes a refined phenotyping protocol, which includes a custom-made monitoring apparatus (Integrated Behavioral Station, INBEST) that focuses on prolonged measurements of basic functional outputs, such as spontaneous activity, food/water intake and motivated behavior in a relatively stress-free environment. Technical and conceptual improvements in INBEST design may further promote reproducibility and standardization of behavioral studies.
Behavior, Issue 98, behavioral phenotyping, Integrated Behavioral Station, disease models, home-cage monitoring, computerized tracking, chronic studies, mice
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Automated Visual Cognitive Tasks for Recording Neural Activity Using a Floor Projection Maze
Authors: Tara K. Jacobson, Jonathan W. Ho, Brendon W. Kent, Fang-Chi Yang, Rebecca D. Burwell.
Institutions: Brown University, Brown University.
Neuropsychological tasks used in primates to investigate mechanisms of learning and memory are typically visually guided cognitive tasks. We have developed visual cognitive tasks for rats using the Floor Projection Maze1,2 that are optimized for visual abilities of rats permitting stronger comparisons of experimental findings with other species. In order to investigate neural correlates of learning and memory, we have integrated electrophysiological recordings into fully automated cognitive tasks on the Floor Projection Maze1,2. Behavioral software interfaced with an animal tracking system allows monitoring of the animal's behavior with precise control of image presentation and reward contingencies for better trained animals. Integration with an in vivo electrophysiological recording system enables examination of behavioral correlates of neural activity at selected epochs of a given cognitive task. We describe protocols for a model system that combines automated visual presentation of information to rodents and intracranial reward with electrophysiological approaches. Our model system offers a sophisticated set of tools as a framework for other cognitive tasks to better isolate and identify specific mechanisms contributing to particular cognitive processes.
Neurobiology, Issue 84, Rat behavioral tasks, visual discrimination, chronic electrophysiological recordings, Floor Projection Maze, neuropsychology, learning, memory
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Automated Interactive Video Playback for Studies of Animal Communication
Authors: Trisha Butkowski, Wei Yan, Aaron M. Gray, Rongfeng Cui, Machteld N. Verzijden, Gil G. Rosenthal.
Institutions: Texas A&M University (TAMU), Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Video playback is a widely-used technique for the controlled manipulation and presentation of visual signals in animal communication. In particular, parameter-based computer animation offers the opportunity to independently manipulate any number of behavioral, morphological, or spectral characteristics in the context of realistic, moving images of animals on screen. A major limitation of conventional playback, however, is that the visual stimulus lacks the ability to interact with the live animal. Borrowing from video-game technology, we have created an automated, interactive system for video playback that controls animations in response to real-time signals from a video tracking system. We demonstrated this method by conducting mate-choice trials on female swordtail fish, Xiphophorus birchmanni. Females were given a simultaneous choice between a courting male conspecific and a courting male heterospecific (X. malinche) on opposite sides of an aquarium. The virtual male stimulus was programmed to track the horizontal position of the female, as courting males do in the wild. Mate-choice trials on wild-caught X. birchmanni females were used to validate the prototype's ability to effectively generate a realistic visual stimulus.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Computer animation, visual communication, mate choice, Xiphophorus birchmanni, tracking
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Implantation of Radiotelemetry Transmitters Yielding Data on ECG, Heart Rate, Core Body Temperature and Activity in Free-moving Laboratory Mice
Authors: Nikola Cesarovic, Paulin Jirkof, Andreas Rettich, Margarete Arras.
Institutions: University Hospital Zurich, University of Zurich.
The laboratory mouse is the animal species of choice for most biomedical research, in both the academic sphere and the pharmaceutical industry. Mice are a manageable size and relatively easy to house. These factors, together with the availability of a wealth of spontaneous and experimentally induced mutants, make laboratory mice ideally suited to a wide variety of research areas. In cardiovascular, pharmacological and toxicological research, accurate measurement of parameters relating to the circulatory system of laboratory animals is often required. Determination of heart rate, heart rate variability, and duration of PQ and QT intervals are based on electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings. However, obtaining reliable ECG curves as well as physiological data such as core body temperature in mice can be difficult using conventional measurement techniques, which require connecting sensors and lead wires to a restrained, tethered, or even anaesthetized animal. Data obtained in this fashion must be interpreted with caution, as it is well known that restraining and anesthesia can have a major artifactual influence on physiological parameters1, 2. Radiotelemetry enables data to be collected from conscious and untethered animals. Measurements can be conducted even in freely moving animals, and without requiring the investigator to be in the proximity of the animal. Thus, known sources of artifacts are avoided, and accurate and reliable measurements are assured. This methodology also reduces interanimal variability, thus reducing the number of animals used, rendering this technology the most humane method of monitoring physiological parameters in laboratory animals3, 4. Constant advancements in data acquisition technology and implant miniaturization mean that it is now possible to record physiological parameters and locomotor activity continuously and in realtime over longer periods such as hours, days or even weeks3, 5. Here, we describe a surgical technique for implantation of a commercially available telemetry transmitter used for continuous measurements of core body temperature, locomotor activity and biopotential (i.e. onelead ECG), from which heart rate, heart rate variability, and PQ and QT intervals can be established in freeroaming, untethered mice. We also present pre-operative procedures and protocols for post-operative intensive care and pain treatment that improve recovery, well-being and survival rates in implanted mice5, 6.
Medicine, Issue 57, telemetry, mouse, mice, transmitter implantation, humane endpoint, post-operative care, intensive care, recovery, surgery
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Quantitative Analysis of Random Migration of Cells Using Time-lapse Video Microscopy
Authors: Prachi Jain, Rebecca A. Worthylake, Suresh K. Alahari.
Institutions: LSU School of Medicine, LSU School of Dentistry, LSU School of Medicine.
Cell migration is a dynamic process, which is important for embryonic development, tissue repair, immune system function, and tumor invasion 1, 2. During directional migration, cells move rapidly in response to an extracellular chemotactic signal, or in response to intrinsic cues 3 provided by the basic motility machinery. Random migration occurs when a cell possesses low intrinsic directionality, allowing the cells to explore their local environment. Cell migration is a complex process, in the initial response cell undergoes polarization and extends protrusions in the direction of migration 2. Traditional methods to measure migration such as the Boyden chamber migration assay is an easy method to measure chemotaxis in vitro, which allows measuring migration as an end point result. However, this approach neither allows measurement of individual migration parameters, nor does it allow to visualization of morphological changes that cell undergoes during migration. Here, we present a method that allows us to monitor migrating cells in real time using video - time lapse microscopy. Since cell migration and invasion are hallmarks of cancer, this method will be applicable in studying cancer cell migration and invasion in vitro. Random migration of platelets has been considered as one of the parameters of platelet function 4, hence this method could also be helpful in studying platelet functions. This assay has the advantage of being rapid, reliable, reproducible, and does not require optimization of cell numbers. In order to maintain physiologically suitable conditions for cells, the microscope is equipped with CO2 supply and temperature thermostat. Cell movement is monitored by taking pictures using a camera fitted to the microscope at regular intervals. Cell migration can be calculated by measuring average speed and average displacement, which is calculated by Slidebook software.
Cellular Biology, Issue 63, migration, real time, time lapse, video microscopy
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Microfluidic-based Electrotaxis for On-demand Quantitative Analysis of Caenorhabditis elegans' Locomotion
Authors: Justin Tong, Pouya Rezai, Sangeena Salam, P. Ravi Selvaganapathy, Bhagwati P. Gupta.
Institutions: McMaster University , McMaster University .
The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans is a versatile model organism for biomedical research because of its conservation of disease-related genes and pathways as well as its ease of cultivation. Several C. elegans disease models have been reported, including neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease (PD), which involves the degeneration of dopaminergic (DA) neurons 1. Both transgenes and neurotoxic chemicals have been used to induce DA neurodegeneration and consequent movement defects in worms, allowing for investigations into the basis of neurodegeneration and screens for neuroprotective genes and compounds 2,3. Screens in lower eukaryotes like C. elegans provide an efficient and economical means to identify compounds and genes affecting neuronal signaling. Conventional screens are typically performed manually and scored by visual inspection; consequently, they are time-consuming and prone to human errors. Additionally, most focus on cellular level analysis while ignoring locomotion, which is an especially important parameter for movement disorders. We have developed a novel microfluidic screening system (Figure 1) that controls and quantifies C. elegans' locomotion using electric field stimuli inside microchannels. We have shown that a Direct Current (DC) field can robustly induce on-demand locomotion towards the cathode ("electrotaxis") 4. Reversing the field's polarity causes the worm to quickly reverse its direction as well. We have also shown that defects in dopaminergic and other sensory neurons alter the swimming response 5. Therefore, abnormalities in neuronal signaling can be determined using locomotion as a read-out. The movement response can be accurately quantified using a range of parameters such as swimming speed, body bending frequency and reversal time. Our work has revealed that the electrotactic response varies with age. Specifically, young adults respond to a lower range of electric fields and move faster compared to larvae 4. These findings led us to design a new microfluidic device to passively sort worms by age and phenotype 6. We have also tested the response of worms to pulsed DC and Alternating Current (AC) electric fields. Pulsed DC fields of various duty cycles effectively generated electrotaxis in both C. elegans and its cousin C. briggsae 7. In another experiment, symmetrical AC fields with frequencies ranging from 1 Hz to 3 KHz immobilized worms inside the channel 8. Implementation of the electric field in a microfluidic environment enables rapid and automated execution of the electrotaxis assay. This approach promises to facilitate high-throughput genetic and chemical screens for factors affecting neuronal function and viability.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Behavior, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Biophysics, Mechanical Engineering, Microfluidics, Caenorhabditis elegans, C. elegans, Neurotoxicity Syndromes, Drug Toxicity, Neurotoxicity Syndromes, Biological Agents, High-Throughput Screening Assays, Toxicity Tests, Locomotion, Nervous System Diseases, electrotaxis, locomotion, swimming, movement, neurodegeneration, neuronal signaling, dopamine, neurons, animal model
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Mouse Short- and Long-term Locomotor Activity Analyzed by Video Tracking Software
Authors: Jason M. York, Neil A. Blevins, Leslie K. McNeil, Gregory G. Freund.
Institutions: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Locomotor activity (LMA) is a simple and easily performed measurement of behavior in mice and other rodents. Improvements in video tracking software (VTS) have allowed it to be coupled to LMA testing, dramatically improving specificity and sensitivity when compared to the line crossings method with manual scoring. In addition, VTS enables high-throughput experimentation. While similar to automated video tracking used for the open field test (OFT), LMA testing is unique in that it allows mice to remain in their home cage and does not utilize the anxiogenic stimulus of bright lighting during the active phase of the light-dark cycle. Traditionally, LMA has been used for short periods of time (mins), while longer movement studies (hrs-days) have often used implanted transmitters and biotelemetry. With the option of real-time tracking, long-, like short-term LMA testing, can now be conducted using videography. Long-term LMA testing requires a specialized, but easily constructed, cage so that food and water (which is usually positioned on the cage top) does not obstruct videography. Importantly, videography and VTS allows for the quantification of parameters, such as path of mouse movement, that are difficult or unfeasible to measure with line crossing and/or biotelemetry. In sum, LMA testing coupled to VTS affords a more complete description of mouse movement and the ability to examine locomotion over an extended period of time.
Neuroscience, Issue 76, Behavior, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Animal, Exploratory Behavior, Behavioral Research, Psychoneuroimmunology, Locomotion, Neuroimmune, high throughput, sickness behavior, noninvasive, video recording, imaging, animal model
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Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Authors: James Smadbeck, Meghan B. Peterson, George A. Khoury, Martin S. Taylor, Christodoulos A. Floudas.
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity. To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (, a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Authors: Hans Maaswinkel, Liqun Zhu, Wei Weng.
Institutions: xyZfish.
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
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High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Authors: Colin W. Bell, Barbara E. Fricks, Jennifer D. Rocca, Jessica M. Steinweg, Shawna K. McMahon, Matthew D. Wallenstein.
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e. C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample). Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e. colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
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Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Authors: James J. Jun, André Longtin, Leonard Maler.
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
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Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Authors: C. R. Gallistel, Fuat Balci, David Freestone, Aaron Kheifets, Adam King.
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
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A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Authors: Brian H. Smith, Christina M. Burden.
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
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Phage Phenomics: Physiological Approaches to Characterize Novel Viral Proteins
Authors: Savannah E. Sanchez, Daniel A. Cuevas, Jason E. Rostron, Tiffany Y. Liang, Cullen G. Pivaroff, Matthew R. Haynes, Jim Nulton, Ben Felts, Barbara A. Bailey, Peter Salamon, Robert A. Edwards, Alex B. Burgin, Anca M. Segall, Forest Rohwer.
Institutions: San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, San Diego State University, Argonne National Laboratory, Broad Institute.
Current investigations into phage-host interactions are dependent on extrapolating knowledge from (meta)genomes. Interestingly, 60 - 95% of all phage sequences share no homology to current annotated proteins. As a result, a large proportion of phage genes are annotated as hypothetical. This reality heavily affects the annotation of both structural and auxiliary metabolic genes. Here we present phenomic methods designed to capture the physiological response(s) of a selected host during expression of one of these unknown phage genes. Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs) are used to monitor the diversity of host substrate utilization and subsequent biomass formation, while metabolomics provides bi-product analysis by monitoring metabolite abundance and diversity. Both tools are used simultaneously to provide a phenotypic profile associated with expression of a single putative phage open reading frame (ORF). Representative results for both methods are compared, highlighting the phenotypic profile differences of a host carrying either putative structural or metabolic phage genes. In addition, the visualization techniques and high throughput computational pipelines that facilitated experimental analysis are presented.
Immunology, Issue 100, phenomics, phage, viral metagenome, Multi-phenotype Assay Plates (MAPs), continuous culture, metabolomics
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