Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Generation of Comprehensive Thoracic Oncology Database - Tool for Translational Research
Institutions: University of Chicago, University of Chicago, Northshore University Health Systems, University of Chicago, University of Chicago, University of Chicago.
The Thoracic Oncology Program Database Project was created to serve as a comprehensive, verified, and accessible repository for well-annotated cancer specimens and clinical data to be available to researchers within the Thoracic Oncology Research Program. This database also captures a large volume of genomic and proteomic data obtained from various tumor tissue studies. A team of clinical and basic science researchers, a biostatistician, and a bioinformatics expert was convened to design the database. Variables of interest were clearly defined and their descriptions were written within a standard operating manual to ensure consistency of data annotation. Using a protocol for prospective tissue banking and another protocol for retrospective banking, tumor and normal tissue samples from patients consented to these protocols were collected. Clinical information such as demographics, cancer characterization, and treatment plans for these patients were abstracted and entered into an Access database. Proteomic and genomic data have been included in the database and have been linked to clinical information for patients described within the database. The data from each table were linked using the relationships function in Microsoft Access to allow the database manager to connect clinical and laboratory information during a query. The queried data can then be exported for statistical analysis and hypothesis generation.
Medicine, Issue 47, Database, Thoracic oncology, Bioinformatics, Biorepository, Microsoft Access, Proteomics, Genomics
Basics of Multivariate Analysis in Neuroimaging Data
Institutions: Columbia University.
Multivariate analysis techniques for neuroimaging data have recently received increasing attention as they have many attractive features that cannot be easily realized by the more commonly used univariate, voxel-wise, techniques1,5,6,7,8,9
. Multivariate approaches evaluate correlation/covariance of activation across brain regions, rather than proceeding on a voxel-by-voxel basis. Thus, their results can be more easily interpreted as a signature of neural networks. Univariate approaches, on the other hand, cannot directly address interregional correlation in the brain. Multivariate approaches can also result in greater statistical power when compared with univariate techniques, which are forced to employ very stringent corrections for voxel-wise multiple comparisons. Further, multivariate techniques also lend themselves much better to prospective application of results from the analysis of one dataset to entirely new datasets. Multivariate techniques are thus well placed to provide information about mean differences and correlations with behavior, similarly to univariate approaches, with potentially greater statistical power and better reproducibility checks. In contrast to these advantages is the high barrier of entry to the use of multivariate approaches, preventing more widespread application in the community. To the neuroscientist becoming familiar with multivariate analysis techniques, an initial survey of the field might present a bewildering variety of approaches that, although algorithmically similar, are presented with different emphases, typically by people with mathematics backgrounds. We believe that multivariate analysis techniques have sufficient potential to warrant better dissemination. Researchers should be able to employ them in an informed and accessible manner. The current article is an attempt at a didactic introduction of multivariate techniques for the novice. A conceptual introduction is followed with a very simple application to a diagnostic data set from the Alzheimer s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), clearly demonstrating the superior performance of the multivariate approach.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 41, fMRI, PET, multivariate analysis, cognitive neuroscience, clinical neuroscience
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Improving IV Insulin Administration in a Community Hospital
Institutions: Wyoming Medical Center.
Diabetes mellitus is a major independent risk factor for increased morbidity and mortality in the hospitalized patient, and elevated blood glucose concentrations, even in non-diabetic patients, predicts poor outcomes.1-4
The 2008 consensus statement by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and the American Diabetes Association (ADA) states that "hyperglycemia in hospitalized patients, irrespective of its cause, is unequivocally associated with adverse outcomes."5
It is important to recognize that hyperglycemia occurs in patients with known or undiagnosed diabetes as well as during acute illness in those with previously normal glucose tolerance.
The Normoglycemia in Intensive Care Evaluation-Survival Using Glucose Algorithm Regulation (NICE-SUGAR) study involved over six thousand adult intensive care unit (ICU) patients who were randomized to intensive glucose control or conventional glucose control.6
Surprisingly, this trial found that intensive glucose control increased the risk of mortality by 14% (odds ratio, 1.14; p=0.02). In addition, there was an increased prevalence of severe hypoglycemia in the intensive control group compared with the conventional control group (6.8% vs. 0.5%, respectively; p<0.001). From this pivotal trial and two others,7,8
Wyoming Medical Center (WMC) realized the importance of controlling hyperglycemia in the hospitalized patient while avoiding the negative impact of resultant hypoglycemia.
Despite multiple revisions of an IV insulin paper protocol, analysis of data from usage of the paper protocol at WMC shows that in terms of achieving normoglycemia while minimizing hypoglycemia, results were suboptimal. Therefore, through a systematical implementation plan, monitoring of patient blood glucose levels was switched from using a paper IV insulin protocol to a computerized glucose management system. By comparing blood glucose levels using the paper protocol to that of the computerized system, it was determined, that overall, the computerized glucose management system resulted in more rapid and tighter glucose control than the traditional paper protocol. Specifically, a substantial increase in the time spent within the target blood glucose concentration range, as well as a decrease in the prevalence of severe hypoglycemia (BG < 40 mg/dL), clinical hypoglycemia (BG < 70 mg/dL), and hyperglycemia (BG > 180 mg/dL), was witnessed in the first five months after implementation of the computerized glucose management system. The computerized system achieved target concentrations in greater than 75% of all readings while minimizing the risk of hypoglycemia. The prevalence of hypoglycemia (BG < 70 mg/dL) with the use of the computer glucose management system was well under 1%.
Medicine, Issue 64, Physiology, Computerized glucose management, Endotool, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, diabetes, IV insulin, paper protocol, glucose control
Using Visual and Narrative Methods to Achieve Fair Process in Clinical Care
Institutions: Brandeis University, Brandeis University.
The Institute of Medicine has targeted patient-centeredness as an important area of quality improvement. A major dimension of patient-centeredness is respect for patient's values, preferences, and expressed needs. Yet specific approaches to gaining this understanding and translating it to quality care in the clinical setting are lacking. From a patient perspective quality is not a simple concept but is best understood in terms of five dimensions: technical outcomes; decision-making efficiency; amenities and convenience; information and emotional support; and overall patient satisfaction. Failure to consider quality from this five-pronged perspective results in a focus on medical outcomes, without considering the processes central to quality from the patient's perspective and vital to achieving good outcomes. In this paper, we argue for applying the concept of fair process in clinical settings. Fair process involves using a collaborative approach to exploring diagnostic issues and treatments with patients, explaining the rationale for decisions, setting expectations about roles and responsibilities, and implementing a core plan and ongoing evaluation. Fair process opens the door to bringing patient expertise into the clinical setting and the work of developing health care goals and strategies. This paper provides a step by step illustration of an innovative visual approach, called photovoice or photo-elicitation, to achieve fair process in clinical work with acquired brain injury survivors and others living with chronic health conditions. Applying this visual tool and methodology in the clinical setting will enhance patient-provider communication; engage patients as partners in identifying challenges, strengths, goals, and strategies; and support evaluation of progress over time. Asking patients to bring visuals of their lives into the clinical interaction can help to illuminate gaps in clinical knowledge, forge better therapeutic relationships with patients living with chronic conditions such as brain injury, and identify patient-centered goals and possibilities for healing. The process illustrated here can be used by clinicians, (primary care physicians, rehabilitation therapists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, psychologists, and others) working with people living with chronic conditions such as acquired brain injury, mental illness, physical disabilities, HIV/AIDS, substance abuse, or post-traumatic stress, and by leaders of support groups for the types of patients described above and their family members or caregivers.
Medicine, Issue 48, person-centered care, participatory visual methods, photovoice, photo-elicitation, narrative medicine, acquired brain injury, disability, rehabilitation, palliative care
A Practical Guide to Phylogenetics for Nonexperts
Institutions: The George Washington University.
Many researchers, across incredibly diverse foci, are applying phylogenetics to their research question(s). However, many researchers are new to this topic and so it presents inherent problems. Here we compile a practical introduction to phylogenetics for nonexperts. We outline in a step-by-step manner, a pipeline for generating reliable phylogenies from gene sequence datasets. We begin with a user-guide for similarity search tools via online interfaces as well as local executables. Next, we explore programs for generating multiple sequence alignments followed by protocols for using software to determine best-fit models of evolution. We then outline protocols for reconstructing phylogenetic relationships via maximum likelihood and Bayesian criteria and finally describe tools for visualizing phylogenetic trees. While this is not by any means an exhaustive description of phylogenetic approaches, it does provide the reader with practical starting information on key software applications commonly utilized by phylogeneticists. The vision for this article would be that it could serve as a practical training tool for researchers embarking on phylogenetic studies and also serve as an educational resource that could be incorporated into a classroom or teaching-lab.
Basic Protocol, Issue 84, phylogenetics, multiple sequence alignments, phylogenetic tree, BLAST executables, basic local alignment search tool, Bayesian models
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
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 (http://www.proteinwisdom.org), 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
Detection of miRNA Targets in High-throughput Using the 3'LIFE Assay
Institutions: Arizona State University, Arizona State University.
Luminescent Identification of Functional Elements in 3’UTRs (3’LIFE) allows the rapid identification of targets of specific miRNAs within an array of hundreds of queried 3’UTRs. Target identification is based on the dual-luciferase assay, which detects binding at the mRNA level by measuring translational output, giving a functional readout of miRNA targeting. 3’LIFE uses non-proprietary buffers and reagents, and publically available reporter libraries, making genome-wide screens feasible and cost-effective. 3’LIFE can be performed either in a standard lab setting or scaled up using liquid handling robots and other high-throughput instrumentation. We illustrate the approach using a dataset of human 3’UTRs cloned in 96-well plates, and two test miRNAs, let-7c
. We demonstrate how to perform DNA preparation, transfection, cell culture and luciferase assays in 96-well format, and provide tools for data analysis. In conclusion 3'LIFE is highly reproducible, rapid, systematic, and identifies high confidence targets.
Molecular Biology, Issue 99, microRNA, luciferase assay, 3' untranslated region, high-throughput, transfection, post-transcriptional gene regulation, cancer
Methods to Test Visual Attention Online
Institutions: University of Rochester, University of Geneva, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Rochester.
Online data collection methods have particular appeal to behavioral scientists because they offer the promise of much larger and much more representative data samples than can typically be collected on college campuses. However, before such methods can be widely adopted, a number of technological challenges must be overcome – in particular in experiments where tight control over stimulus properties is necessary. Here we present methods for collecting performance data on two tests of visual attention. Both tests require control over the visual angle of the stimuli (which in turn requires knowledge of the viewing distance, monitor size, screen resolution, etc.
) and the timing of the stimuli (as the tests involve either briefly flashed stimuli or stimuli that move at specific rates). Data collected on these tests from over 1,700 online participants were consistent with data collected in laboratory-based versions of the exact same tests. These results suggest that with proper care, timing/stimulus size dependent tasks can be deployed in web-based settings.
Behavior, Issue 96, Behavior, visual attention, web-based assessment, computer-based assessment, visual search, multiple object tracking
Using Bioluminescent Imaging to Investigate Synergism Between Streptococcus pneumoniae and Influenza A Virus in Infant Mice
Institutions: University of Melbourne, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research.
During the 1918 influenza virus pandemic, which killed approximately 50 million people worldwide, the majority of fatalities were not the result of infection with influenza virus alone. Instead, most individuals are thought to have succumbed to a secondary bacterial infection, predominately caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae
(the pneumococcus). The synergistic relationship between infections caused by influenza virus and the pneumococcus has subsequently been observed during the 1957 Asian influenza virus pandemic, as well as during seasonal outbreaks of the virus (reviewed in 1, 2
). Here, we describe a protocol used to investigate the mechanism(s) that may be involved in increased morbidity as a result of concurrent influenza A virus and S. pneumoniae
infection. We have developed an infant murine model to reliably and reproducibly demonstrate the effects of influenza virus infection of mice colonised with S. pneumoniae
. Using this protocol, we have provided the first insight into the kinetics of pneumococcal transmission between co-housed, neonatal mice using in vivo
Infection, Issue 50, Bioluminescent imaging, influenza A virus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, mice, intranasal infection, otitis media, co-infections
Measuring Frailty in HIV-infected Individuals. Identification of Frail Patients is the First Step to Amelioration and Reversal of Frailty
Institutions: University of Arizona, University of Arizona.
A simple, validated protocol consisting of a battery of tests is available to identify elderly patients with frailty syndrome. This syndrome of decreased reserve and resistance to stressors increases in incidence with increasing age. In the elderly, frailty may pursue a step-wise loss of function from non-frail to pre-frail to frail. We studied frailty in HIV-infected patients and found that ~20% are frail using the Fried phenotype using stringent criteria developed for the elderly1,2
. In HIV infection the syndrome occurs at a younger age.
HIV patients were checked for 1) unintentional weight loss; 2) slowness as determined by walking speed; 3) weakness as measured by a grip dynamometer; 4) exhaustion by responses to a depression scale; and 5) low physical activity was determined by assessing kilocalories expended in a week's time. Pre-frailty was present with any two of five criteria and frailty was present if any three of the five criteria were abnormal.
The tests take approximately 10-15 min to complete and they can be performed by medical assistants during routine clinic visits. Test results are scored by referring to standard tables. Understanding which of the five components contribute to frailty in an individual patient can allow the clinician to address relevant underlying problems, many of which are not evident in routine HIV clinic visits.
Medicine, Issue 77, Infection, Virology, Infectious Diseases, Anatomy, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Retroviridae Infections, Body Weight Changes, Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures, Physical Examination, Muscle Strength, Behavior, Virus Diseases, Pathological Conditions, Signs and Symptoms, Diagnosis, Musculoskeletal and Neural Physiological Phenomena, HIV, HIV-1, AIDS, Frailty, Depression, Weight Loss, Weakness, Slowness, Exhaustion, Aging, clinical techniques
Moderate Prenatal Alcohol Exposure and Quantification of Social Behavior in Adult Rats
Institutions: University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico, University of New Mexico, University of Lethbridge.
Alterations in social behavior are among the major negative consequences observed in children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASDs). Several independent laboratories have demonstrated robust alterations in the social behavior of rodents exposed to alcohol during brain development across a wide range of exposure durations, timing, doses, and ages at the time of behavioral quantification. Prior work from this laboratory has identified reliable alterations in specific forms of social interaction following moderate prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) in the rat that persist well into adulthood, including increased wrestling and decreased investigation. These behavioral alterations have been useful in identifying neural circuits altered by moderate PAE1
, and may hold importance for progressing toward a more complete understanding of the neural bases of PAE-related alterations in social behavior. This paper describes procedures for performing moderate PAE in which rat dams voluntarily consume ethanol or saccharin (control) throughout gestation, and measurement of social behaviors in adult offspring.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, Aggression, Alcohol Teratogenesis, Alcohol-related Neurodevelopmental Disorders, ARND, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, FASD, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, FAS, Social interaction
Methods for Facilitating Microbial Growth on Pulp Mill Waste Streams and Characterization of the Biodegradation Potential of Cultured Microbes
Institutions: North Carolina State University, North Carolina State University.
The kraft process is applied to wood chips for separation of lignin from the polysaccharides within lignocellulose for pulp that will produce a high quality paper. Black liquor is a pulping waste generated by the kraft process that has potential for downstream bioconversion. However, the recalcitrant nature of the lignocellulose resources, its chemical derivatives that constitute the majority of available organic carbon within black liquor, and its basic pH present challenges to microbial biodegradation of this waste material. Methods for the collection and modification of black liquor for microbial growth are aimed at utilization of this pulp waste to convert the lignin, organic acids, and polysaccharide degradation byproducts into valuable chemicals. The lignocellulose extraction techniques presented provide a reproducible method for preparation of lignocellulose growth substrates for understanding metabolic capacities of cultured microorganisms. Use of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry enables the identification and quantification of the fermentation products resulting from the growth of microorganisms on pulping waste. These methods when used together can facilitate the determination of the metabolic activity of microorganisms with potential to produce fermentation products that would provide greater value to the pulping system and reduce effluent waste, thereby increasing potential paper milling profits and offering additional uses for black liquor.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 82, biodegradation (bacterial degradation), pulp mill waste, black liquor, kraft process, lignocellulose extraction, microorganisms, fermentation products, GC-MS
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
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
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
The ITS2 Database
Institutions: University of Würzburg, University of Würzburg.
The internal transcribed spacer 2 (ITS2) has been used as a phylogenetic marker for more than two decades. As ITS2 research mainly focused on the very variable ITS2 sequence, it confined this marker to low-level phylogenetics only. However, the combination of the ITS2 sequence and its highly conserved secondary structure improves the phylogenetic resolution1
and allows phylogenetic inference at multiple taxonomic ranks, including species delimitation2-8
The ITS2 Database9
presents an exhaustive dataset of internal transcribed spacer 2 sequences from NCBI GenBank11
. Following an annotation by profile Hidden Markov Models (HMMs), the secondary structure of each sequence is predicted. First, it is tested whether a minimum energy based fold12
(direct fold) results in a correct, four helix conformation. If this is not the case, the structure is predicted by homology modeling13
. In homology modeling, an already known secondary structure is transferred to another ITS2 sequence, whose secondary structure was not able to fold correctly in a direct fold.
The ITS2 Database is not only a database for storage and retrieval of ITS2 sequence-structures. It also provides several tools to process your own ITS2 sequences, including annotation, structural prediction, motif detection and BLAST14
search on the combined sequence-structure information. Moreover, it integrates trimmed versions of 4SALE15,16
for multiple sequence-structure alignment calculation and Neighbor Joining18
tree reconstruction. Together they form a coherent analysis pipeline from an initial set of sequences to a phylogeny based on sequence and secondary structure.
In a nutshell, this workbench simplifies first phylogenetic analyses to only a few mouse-clicks, while additionally providing tools and data for comprehensive large-scale analyses.
Genetics, Issue 61, alignment, internal transcribed spacer 2, molecular systematics, secondary structure, ribosomal RNA, phylogenetic tree, homology modeling, phylogeny
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Combining Magnetic Sorting of Mother Cells and Fluctuation Tests to Analyze Genome Instability During Mitotic Cell Aging in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Institutions: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
has been an excellent model system for examining mechanisms and consequences of genome instability. Information gained from this yeast model is relevant to many organisms, including humans, since DNA repair and DNA damage response factors are well conserved across diverse species. However, S. cerevisiae
has not yet been used to fully address whether the rate of accumulating mutations changes with increasing replicative (mitotic) age due to technical constraints. For instance, measurements of yeast replicative lifespan through micromanipulation involve very small populations of cells, which prohibit detection of rare mutations. Genetic methods to enrich for mother cells in populations by inducing death of daughter cells have been developed, but population sizes are still limited by the frequency with which random mutations that compromise the selection systems occur. The current protocol takes advantage of magnetic sorting of surface-labeled yeast mother cells to obtain large enough populations of aging mother cells to quantify rare mutations through phenotypic selections. Mutation rates, measured through fluctuation tests, and mutation frequencies are first established for young cells and used to predict the frequency of mutations in mother cells of various replicative ages. Mutation frequencies are then determined for sorted mother cells, and the age of the mother cells is determined using flow cytometry by staining with a fluorescent reagent that detects bud scars formed on their cell surfaces during cell division. Comparison of predicted mutation frequencies based on the number of cell divisions to the frequencies experimentally observed for mother cells of a given replicative age can then identify whether there are age-related changes in the rate of accumulating mutations. Variations of this basic protocol provide the means to investigate the influence of alterations in specific gene functions or specific environmental conditions on mutation accumulation to address mechanisms underlying genome instability during replicative aging.
Microbiology, Issue 92, Aging, mutations, genome instability, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, fluctuation test, magnetic sorting, mother cell, replicative aging
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
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
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions