One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1 Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23 However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g., vocabulary),5 or include a significant motor component (e.g., pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22 This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g., laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24 Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
17 Related JoVE Articles!
Modulating Cognition Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of the Cerebellum
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Numerous studies have emerged recently that demonstrate the possibility of modulating, and in some cases enhancing, cognitive processes by exciting brain regions involved in working memory and attention using transcranial electrical brain stimulation. Some researchers now believe the cerebellum supports cognition, possibly via a remote neuromodulatory effect on the prefrontal cortex. This paper describes a procedure for investigating a role for the cerebellum in cognition using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and a selection of information-processing tasks of varying task difficulty, which have previously been shown to involve working memory, attention and cerebellar functioning. One task is called the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT) and the other a novel variant of this task called the Paced Auditory Serial Subtraction Task (PASST). A verb generation task and its two controls (noun and verb reading) were also investigated. All five tasks were performed by three separate groups of participants, before and after the modulation of cortico-cerebellar connectivity using anodal, cathodal or sham tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. The procedure demonstrates how performance (accuracy, verbal response latency and variability) could be selectively improved after cathodal stimulation, but only during tasks that the participants rated as difficult, and not easy. Performance was unchanged by anodal or sham stimulation. These findings demonstrate a role for the cerebellum in cognition, whereby activity in the left prefrontal cortex is likely dis-inhibited by cathodal tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. Transcranial brain stimulation is growing in popularity in various labs and clinics. However, the after-effects of tDCS are inconsistent between individuals and not always polarity-specific, and may even be task- or load-specific, all of which requires further study. Future efforts might also be guided towards neuro-enhancement in cerebellar patients presenting with cognitive impairment once a better understanding of brain stimulation mechanisms has emerged.
Behavior, Issue 96, Cognition, working memory, tDCS, cerebellum, brain stimulation, neuro-modulation, neuro-enhancement
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Investigating Causal Brain-behavioral Relationships and their Time Course
Institutions: University College London.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe, non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses a strong electromagnet in order to temporarily disrupt information processing in a brain region, generating a short-lived “virtual lesion.” Stimulation that interferes with task performance indicates that the affected brain region is necessary to perform the task normally. In other words, unlike neuroimaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that indicate correlations between brain and behavior, TMS can be used to demonstrate causal brain-behavior relations. Furthermore, by varying the duration and onset of the virtual lesion, TMS can also reveal the time course of normal processing. As a result, TMS has become an important tool in cognitive neuroscience. Advantages of the technique over lesion-deficit studies include better spatial-temporal precision of the disruption effect, the ability to use participants as their own control subjects, and the accessibility of participants. Limitations include concurrent auditory and somatosensory stimulation that may influence task performance, limited access to structures more than a few centimeters from the surface of the scalp, and the relatively large space of free parameters that need to be optimized in order for the experiment to work. Experimental designs that give careful consideration to appropriate control conditions help to address these concerns. This article illustrates these issues with TMS results that investigate the spatial and temporal contributions of the left supramarginal gyrus (SMG) to reading.
Behavior, Issue 89,
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, virtual lesion, chronometric, cognition, brain, behavior
Irrelevant Stimuli and Action Control: Analyzing the Influence of Ignored Stimuli via the Distractor-Response Binding Paradigm
Institutions: Trier University, Trier University.
Selection tasks in which simple stimuli (e.g.
letters) are presented and a target stimulus has to be selected against one or more distractor stimuli are frequently used in the research on human action control. One important question in these settings is how distractor stimuli, competing with the target stimulus for a response, influence actions. The distractor-response binding paradigm can be used to investigate this influence. It is particular useful to separately analyze response retrieval and distractor inhibition effects. Computer-based experiments are used to collect the data (reaction times and error rates). In a number of sequentially presented pairs of stimulus arrays (prime-probe design), participants respond to targets while ignoring distractor stimuli. Importantly, the factors response relation in the arrays of each pair (repetition vs. change) and distractor relation (repetition vs. change) are varied orthogonally. The repetition of the same distractor then has a different effect depending on response relation (repetition vs. change) between arrays. This result pattern can be explained by response retrieval due to distractor repetition. In addition, distractor inhibition effects are indicated by a general advantage due to distractor repetition. The described paradigm has proven useful to determine relevant parameters for response retrieval effects on human action.
Behavior, Issue 87, stimulus-response binding, distractor-response binding, response retrieval, distractor inhibition, event file, action control, selection task
Making Sense of Listening: The IMAP Test Battery
Institutions: MRC Institute of Hearing Research, National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing.
The ability to hear is only the first step towards making sense of the range of information contained in an auditory signal. Of equal importance are the abilities to extract and use the information encoded in the auditory signal. We refer to these as listening skills (or auditory processing AP). Deficits in these skills are associated with delayed language and literacy development, though the nature of the relevant deficits and their causal connection with these delays is hotly debated.
When a child is referred to a health professional with normal hearing and unexplained difficulties in listening, or associated delays in language or literacy development, they should ideally be assessed with a combination of psychoacoustic (AP) tests, suitable for children and for use in a clinic, together with cognitive tests to measure attention, working memory, IQ, and language skills. Such a detailed examination needs to be relatively short and within the technical capability of any suitably qualified professional. Current tests for the presence of AP deficits tend to be poorly constructed and inadequately validated within the normal population. They have little or no reference to the presenting symptoms of the child, and typically include a linguistic component. Poor performance may thus reflect problems with language rather than with AP. To assist in the assessment of children with listening difficulties, pediatric audiologists need a single, standardized child-appropriate test battery based on the use of language-free stimuli.
We present the IMAP test battery which was developed at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to supplement tests currently used to investigate cases of suspected AP deficits. IMAP assesses a range of relevant auditory and cognitive skills and takes about one hour to complete. It has been standardized in 1500 normally-hearing children from across the UK, aged 6-11 years. Since its development, it has been successfully used in a number of large scale studies both in the UK and the USA. IMAP provides measures for separating out sensory from cognitive contributions to hearing. It further limits confounds due to procedural effects by presenting tests in a child-friendly game-format. Stimulus-generation, management of test protocols and control of test presentation is mediated by the IHR-STAR software platform. This provides a standardized methodology for a range of applications and ensures replicable procedures across testers. IHR-STAR provides a flexible, user-programmable environment that currently has additional applications for hearing screening, mapping cochlear implant electrodes, and academic research or teaching.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Listening skills, auditory processing, auditory psychophysics, clinical assessment, child-friendly testing
Infant Auditory Processing and Event-related Brain Oscillations
Institutions: Rutgers University, State University of New Jersey, Newark, University of the Pacific, Stanford University.
Rapid auditory processing and acoustic change detection abilities play a critical role in allowing human infants to efficiently process the fine spectral and temporal changes that are characteristic of human language. These abilities lay the foundation for effective language acquisition; allowing infants to hone in on the sounds of their native language. Invasive procedures in animals and scalp-recorded potentials from human adults suggest that simultaneous, rhythmic activity (oscillations) between and within brain regions are fundamental to sensory development; determining the resolution with which incoming stimuli are parsed. At this time, little is known about oscillatory dynamics in human infant development. However, animal neurophysiology and adult EEG data provide the basis for a strong hypothesis that rapid auditory processing in infants is mediated by oscillatory synchrony in discrete frequency bands. In order to investigate this, 128-channel, high-density EEG responses of 4-month old infants to frequency change in tone pairs, presented in two rate conditions (Rapid: 70 msec ISI and Control: 300 msec ISI) were examined. To determine the frequency band and magnitude of activity, auditory evoked response averages were first co-registered with age-appropriate brain templates. Next, the principal components of the response were identified and localized using a two-dipole model of brain activity. Single-trial analysis of oscillatory power showed a robust index of frequency change processing in bursts of Theta band (3 - 8 Hz) activity in both right and left auditory cortices, with left activation more prominent in the Rapid condition. These methods have produced data that are not only some of the first reported evoked oscillations analyses in infants, but are also, importantly, the product of a well-established method of recording and analyzing clean, meticulously collected, infant EEG and ERPs. In this article, we describe our method for infant EEG net application, recording, dynamic brain response analysis, and representative results.
Behavior, Issue 101, Infant, Infant Brain, Human Development, Auditory Development, Oscillations, Brain Oscillations, Theta, Electroencephalogram, Child Development, Event-related Potentials, Source Localization, Auditory Cortex
A Dual Task Procedure Combined with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to Test Attentional Blink for Nontargets
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
When viewers search for targets in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream, if two targets are presented within about 500 msec of each other, the first target may be easy to spot but the second is likely to be missed. This phenomenon of attentional blink (AB) has been widely studied to probe the temporal capacity of attention for detecting visual targets. However, with the typical procedure of AB experiments, it is not possible to examine how the processing of non-target items in RSVP may be affected by attention. This paper describes a novel dual task procedure combined with RSVP to test effects of AB for nontargets at varied stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). In an exemplar experiment, a target category was first displayed, followed by a sequence of 8 nouns. If one of the nouns belonged to the target category, participants would respond ‘yes’ at the end of the sequence, otherwise participants would respond ‘no’. Two 2-alternative forced choice memory tasks followed the response to determine if participants remembered the words immediately before or after the target, as well as a random word from another part of the sequence. In a second exemplar experiment, the same design was used, except that 1) the memory task was counterbalanced into two groups with SOAs of either 120 or 240 msec and 2) three memory tasks followed the sequence and tested remembrance for nontarget nouns in the sequence that could be anywhere from 3 items prior the target noun position to 3 items following the target noun position. Representative results from a previously published study demonstrate that our procedure can be used to examine divergent effects of attention that not only enhance targets but also suppress nontargets. Here we show results from a representative participant that replicated the previous finding.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dual task, attentional blink, RSVP, target detection, recognition, visual psychophysics
Practical Methodology of Cognitive Tasks Within a Navigational Assessment
Institutions: Laurentian University, Laurentian University.
This paper describes an approach for measuring navigation accuracy relative to cognitive skills. The methodology behind the assessment will thus be clearly outlined in a step-by-step manner. Navigational skills are important when trying to find symbols within a speech-generating device (SGD) that has a dynamic screen and taxonomical organization. The following skills have been found to impact children’s ability to find symbols when navigating within the levels of an SGD: sustained attention, categorization, cognitive flexibility, and fluid reasoning1,2
. According to past studies, working memory was not correlated with navigation1,2
The materials needed for this method include a computerized tablet, an augmentative and alternative communication application, a booklet of symbols, and the Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised (Leiter-R)3
. This method has been used in two previous studies. Robillard, Mayer-Crittenden, Roy-Charland, Minor-Corriveau and Bélanger1
assessed typically developing children, while Rondeau, Robillard and Roy-Charland2
assessed children and adolescents with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The direct observation of this method will facilitate the replication of this study for researchers. It will also help clinicians that work with children who have complex communication needs to determine the children’s ability to navigate an SGD with taxonomical categorization.
Behavior, Issue 100, Augmentative and alternative communication, navigation, cognition, assessment, speech-language pathology, children
A Cognitive Paradigm to Investigate Interference in Working Memory by Distractions and Interruptions
Institutions: University of New Mexico, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco.
Goal-directed behavior is often impaired by interference from the external environment, either in the form of distraction by irrelevant information that one attempts to ignore, or by interrupting information that demands attention as part of another (secondary) task goal. Both forms of external interference have been shown to detrimentally impact the ability to maintain information in working memory (WM). Emerging evidence suggests that these different types of external interference exert different effects on behavior and may be mediated by distinct neural mechanisms. Better characterizing the distinct neuro-behavioral impact of irrelevant distractions versus attended interruptions is essential for advancing an understanding of top-down attention, resolution of external interference, and how these abilities become degraded in healthy aging and in neuropsychiatric conditions. This manuscript describes a novel cognitive paradigm developed the Gazzaley lab that has now been modified into several distinct versions used to elucidate behavioral and neural correlates of interference, by to-be-ignored distractors
versus to-be-attended interruptors
. Details are provided on variants of this paradigm for investigating interference in visual and auditory modalities, at multiple levels of stimulus complexity, and with experimental timing optimized for electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. In addition, data from younger and older adult participants obtained using this paradigm is reviewed and discussed in the context of its relationship with the broader literatures on external interference and age-related neuro-behavioral changes in resolving interference in working memory.
Behavior, Issue 101, Attention, interference, distraction, interruption, working memory, aging, multi-tasking, top-down attention, EEG, fMRI
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Using Eye Movements to Evaluate the Cognitive Processes Involved in Text Comprehension
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago.
The present article describes how to use eye tracking methodologies to study the cognitive processes involved in text comprehension. Measuring eye movements during reading is one of the most precise methods for measuring moment-by-moment (online) processing demands during text comprehension. Cognitive processing demands are reflected by several aspects of eye movement behavior, such as fixation duration, number of fixations, and number of regressions (returning to prior parts of a text). Important properties of eye tracking equipment that researchers need to consider are described, including how frequently the eye position is measured (sampling rate), accuracy of determining eye position, how much head movement is allowed, and ease of use. Also described are properties of stimuli that influence eye movements that need to be controlled in studies of text comprehension, such as the position, frequency, and length of target words. Procedural recommendations related to preparing the participant, setting up and calibrating the equipment, and running a study are given. Representative results are presented to illustrate how data can be evaluated. Although the methodology is described in terms of reading comprehension, much of the information presented can be applied to any study in which participants read verbal stimuli.
Behavior, Issue 83, Eye movements, Eye tracking, Text comprehension, Reading, Cognition
Utilizing Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Improve Language Function in Stroke Patients with Chronic Non-fluent Aphasia
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania , University of Pennsylvania , Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been shown to significantly improve language function in patients with non-fluent aphasia1
. In this experiment, we demonstrate the administration of low-frequency repetitive TMS (rTMS) to an optimal stimulation site in the right hemisphere in patients with chronic non-fluent aphasia. A battery of standardized language measures is administered in order to assess baseline performance. Patients are subsequently randomized to either receive real rTMS or initial sham stimulation. Patients in the real stimulation undergo a site-finding phase, comprised of a series of six rTMS sessions administered over five days; stimulation is delivered to a different site in the right frontal lobe during each of these sessions. Each site-finding session consists of 600 pulses of 1 Hz rTMS, preceded and followed by a picture-naming task. By comparing the degree of transient change in naming ability elicited by stimulation of candidate sites, we are able to locate the area of optimal response for each individual patient. We then administer rTMS to this site during the treatment phase. During treatment, patients undergo a total of ten days of stimulation over the span of two weeks; each session is comprised of 20 min of 1 Hz rTMS delivered at 90% resting motor threshold. Stimulation is paired with an fMRI-naming task on the first and last days of treatment. After the treatment phase is complete, the language battery obtained at baseline is repeated two and six months following stimulation in order to identify rTMS-induced changes in performance. The fMRI-naming task is also repeated two and six months following treatment. Patients who are randomized to the sham arm of the study undergo sham site-finding, sham treatment, fMRI-naming studies, and repeat language testing two months after completing sham treatment. Sham patients then cross over into the real stimulation arm, completing real site-finding, real treatment, fMRI, and two- and six-month post-stimulation language testing.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Neurology, Stroke, Aphasia, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, TMS, language, neurorehabilitation, optimal site-finding, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, brain, stimulation, imaging, clinical techniques, clinical applications
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
● Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
● Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
● Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
● Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Assessment of Cerebral Lateralization in Children using Functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD)
Institutions: University of Oxford.
There are many unanswered questions about cerebral lateralization. In particular, it remains unclear which aspects of language and nonverbal ability are lateralized, whether there are any disadvantages associated with atypical patterns of cerebral lateralization, and whether cerebral lateralization develops with age. In the past, researchers interested in these questions tended to use handedness as a proxy measure for cerebral lateralization, but this is unsatisfactory because handedness is only a weak and indirect indicator of laterality of cognitive functions1
. Other methods, such as fMRI, are expensive for large-scale studies, and not always feasible with children2
Here we will describe the use of functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound (fTCD) as a cost-effective, non-invasive and reliable method for assessing cerebral lateralization. The procedure involves measuring blood flow in the middle cerebral artery via an ultrasound probe placed just in front of the ear. Our work builds on work by Rune Aaslid, who co-introduced TCD in 1982, and Stefan Knecht, Michael Deppe and their colleagues at the University of Münster, who pioneered the use of simultaneous measurements of left- and right middle cerebral artery blood flow, and devised a method of correcting for heart beat activity. This made it possible to see a clear increase in left-sided blood flow during language generation, with lateralization agreeing well with that obtained using other methods3
The middle cerebral artery has a very wide vascular territory (see Figure 1) and the method does not provide useful information about localization within a hemisphere. Our experience suggests it is particularly sensitive to tasks that involve explicit or implicit speech production. The 'gold standard' task is a word generation task (e.g. think of as many words as you can that begin with the letter 'B') 4
, but this is not suitable for young children and others with limited literacy skills. Compared with other brain imaging methods, fTCD is relatively unaffected by movement artefacts from speaking, and so we are able to get a reliable result from tasks that involve describing pictures aloud5,6
. Accordingly, we have developed a child-friendly task that involves looking at video-clips that tell a story, and then describing what was seen.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound, cerebral lateralization, language, child
Testing Sensory and Multisensory Function in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, University of Toronto, Vanderbilt University.
In addition to impairments in social communication and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, deficits in sensory processing are now recognized as a core symptom in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Our ability to perceive and interact with the external world is rooted in sensory processing. For example, listening to a conversation entails processing the auditory cues coming from the speaker (speech content, prosody, syntax) as well as the associated visual information (facial expressions, gestures). Collectively, the “integration” of these multisensory (i.e.
, combined audiovisual) pieces of information results in better comprehension. Such multisensory integration has been shown to be strongly dependent upon the temporal relationship of the paired stimuli. Thus, stimuli that occur in close temporal proximity are highly likely to result in behavioral and perceptual benefits – gains believed to be reflective of the perceptual system's judgment of the likelihood that these two stimuli came from the same source. Changes in this temporal integration are expected to strongly alter perceptual processes, and are likely to diminish the ability to accurately perceive and interact with our world. Here, a battery of tasks designed to characterize various aspects of sensory and multisensory temporal processing in children with ASD is described. In addition to its utility in autism, this battery has great potential for characterizing changes in sensory function in other clinical populations, as well as being used to examine changes in these processes across the lifespan.
Behavior, Issue 98, Temporal processing, multisensory integration, psychophysics, computer based assessments, sensory deficits, autism spectrum disorder