Task-specific actions emerge from spontaneous movement during infancy. It has been proposed that task-specific actions emerge through a discovery-learning process. Here a method is described in which 3-4 month old infants learn a task by discovery and their leg movements are captured to quantify the learning process. This discovery-learning task uses an infant activated mobile that rotates and plays music based on specified leg action of infants. Supine infants activate the mobile by moving their feet vertically across a virtual threshold. This paradigm is unique in that as infants independently discover that their leg actions activate the mobile, the infants’ leg movements are tracked using a motion capture system allowing for the quantification of the learning process. Specifically, learning is quantified in terms of the duration of mobile activation, the position variance of the end effectors (feet) that activate the mobile, changes in hip-knee coordination patterns, and changes in hip and knee muscle torque. This information describes infant exploration and exploitation at the interplay of person and environmental constraints that support task-specific action. Subsequent research using this method can investigate how specific impairments of different populations of infants at risk for movement disorders influence the discovery-learning process for task-specific action.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Principles of Site-Specific Recombinase (SSR) Technology
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Site-specific recombinase (SSR) technology allows the manipulation of gene structure to explore gene function and has become an integral tool of molecular biology. Site-specific recombinases are proteins that bind to distinct DNA target sequences. The Cre/lox system was first described in bacteriophages during the 1980's. Cre recombinase is a Type I topoisomerase that catalyzes site-specific recombination of DNA between two loxP (locus of X-over P1) sites. The Cre/lox system does not require any cofactors. LoxP sequences contain distinct binding sites for Cre recombinases that surround a directional core sequence where recombination and rearrangement takes place. When cells contain loxP sites and express the Cre recombinase, a recombination event occurs. Double-stranded DNA is cut at both loxP sites by the Cre recombinase, rearranged, and ligated ("scissors and glue"). Products of the recombination event depend on the relative orientation of the asymmetric sequences.
SSR technology is frequently used as a tool to explore gene function. Here the gene of interest is flanked with Cre target sites loxP ("floxed"). Animals are then crossed with animals expressing the Cre recombinase under the control of a tissue-specific promoter. In tissues that express the Cre recombinase it binds to target sequences and excises the floxed gene. Controlled gene deletion allows the investigation of gene function in specific tissues and at distinct time points. Analysis of gene function employing SSR technology --- conditional mutagenesis -- has significant advantages over traditional knock-outs where gene deletion is frequently lethal.
Cellular Biology, Issue 15, Molecular Biology, Site-Specific Recombinase, Cre recombinase, Cre/lox system, transgenic animals, transgenic technology
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
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
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
Simultaneous Long-term Recordings at Two Neuronal Processing Stages in Behaving Honeybees
Institutions: University of Würzburg.
In both mammals and insects neuronal information is processed in different higher and lower order brain centers. These centers are coupled via convergent and divergent anatomical connections including feed forward and feedback wiring. Furthermore, information of the same origin is partially sent via parallel pathways to different and sometimes into the same brain areas. To understand the evolutionary benefits as well as the computational advantages of these wiring strategies and especially their temporal dependencies on each other, it is necessary to have simultaneous access to single neurons of different tracts or neuropiles in the same preparation at high temporal resolution. Here we concentrate on honeybees by demonstrating a unique extracellular long term access to record multi unit activity at two subsequent neuropiles1
, the antennal lobe (AL), the first olfactory processing stage and the mushroom body (MB), a higher order integration center involved in learning and memory formation, or two parallel neuronal tracts2
connecting the AL with the MB. The latter was chosen as an example and will be described in full. In the supporting video the construction and permanent insertion of flexible multi channel wire electrodes is demonstrated. Pairwise differential amplification of the micro wire electrode channels drastically reduces the noise and verifies that the source of the signal is closely related to the position of the electrode tip. The mechanical flexibility of the used wire electrodes allows stable invasive long term recordings over many hours up to days, which is a clear advantage compared to conventional extra and intracellular in vivo
Neuroscience, Issue 89, honeybee brain, olfaction, extracellular long term recordings, double recordings, differential wire electrodes, single unit, multi-unit recordings
TIRFM and pH-sensitive GFP-probes to Evaluate Neurotransmitter Vesicle Dynamics in SH-SY5Y Neuroblastoma Cells: Cell Imaging and Data Analysis
Institutions: Università degli Studi di Milano, San Raffaele Scientific Institute and Vita-Salute University, Università degli Studi di Milano.
Synaptic vesicles release neurotransmitters at chemical synapses through a dynamic cycle of fusion and retrieval. Monitoring synaptic activity in real time
and dissecting the different steps of exo-endocytosis at the single-vesicle level are crucial for understanding synaptic functions in health and disease.
Genetically-encoded pH-sensitive probes directly targeted to synaptic vesicles and Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscopy (TIRFM) provide the spatio-temporal resolution necessary to follow vesicle dynamics. The evanescent field generated by total internal reflection can only excite fluorophores placed in a thin layer (<150 nm) above the glass cover on which cells adhere, exactly where the processes of exo-endocytosis take place. The resulting high-contrast images are ideally suited for vesicles tracking and quantitative analysis of fusion events.
In this protocol, SH-SY5Y human neuroblastoma cells are proposed as a valuable model for studying neurotransmitter release at the single-vesicle level by TIRFM, because of their flat surface and the presence of dispersed vesicles. The methods for growing SH-SY5Y as adherent cells and for transfecting them with synapto-pHluorin are provided, as well as the technique to perform TIRFM and imaging. Finally, a strategy aiming to select, count, and analyze fusion events at whole-cell and single-vesicle levels is presented.
To validate the imaging procedure and data analysis approach, the dynamics of pHluorin-tagged vesicles are analyzed under resting and stimulated (depolarizing potassium concentrations) conditions. Membrane depolarization increases the frequency of fusion events and causes a parallel raise of the net fluorescence signal recorded in whole cell. Single-vesicle analysis reveals modifications of fusion-event behavior (increased peak height and width). These data suggest that potassium depolarization not only induces a massive neurotransmitter release but also modifies the mechanism of vesicle fusion and recycling.
With the appropriate fluorescent probe, this technique can be employed in different cellular systems to dissect the mechanisms of constitutive and stimulated secretion.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, Synaptic vesicles, neurotransmission, Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscopy, pHluorin, neuroblastoma cells
Operant Procedures for Assessing Behavioral Flexibility in Rats
Institutions: St. Mary's College of Maryland, University of British Columbia.
Executive functions consist of multiple high-level cognitive processes that drive rule generation and behavioral selection. An emergent property of these processes is the ability to adjust behavior in response to changes in one’s environment (i.e.
, behavioral flexibility). These processes are essential to normal human behavior, and may be disrupted in diverse neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding of the neurobiology of executive functions has been greatly advanced by the availability of animal tasks for assessing discrete components of behavioral flexibility, particularly strategy shifting and reversal learning. While several types of tasks have been developed, most are non-automated, labor intensive, and allow testing of only one animal at a time. The recent development of automated, operant-based tasks for assessing behavioral flexibility streamlines testing, standardizes stimulus presentation and data recording, and dramatically improves throughput. Here, we describe automated strategy shifting and reversal tasks, using operant chambers controlled by custom written software programs. Using these tasks, we have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex governs strategy shifting but not reversal learning in the rat, similar to the dissociation observed in humans. Moreover, animals with a neonatal hippocampal lesion, a neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia, are selectively impaired on the strategy shifting task but not the reversal task. The strategy shifting task also allows the identification of separate types of performance errors, each of which is attributable to distinct neural substrates. The availability of these automated tasks, and the evidence supporting the dissociable contributions of separate prefrontal areas, makes them particularly well-suited assays for the investigation of basic neurobiological processes as well as drug discovery and screening in disease models.
Behavior, Issue 96, executive function, behavioral flexibility, prefrontal cortex, strategy shifting, reversal learning, behavioral neuroscience, schizophrenia, operant
Assessing the Multiple Dimensions of Engagement to Characterize Learning: A Neurophysiological Perspective
Institutions: Université du Québec à Montréal, HEC Montreal, HEC Montreal, Université du Québec à Montréal.
In a recent theoretical synthesis on the concept of engagement, Fredricks, Blumenfeld and Paris1
defined engagement by its multiple dimensions: behavioral, emotional and cognitive. They observed that individual types of engagement had not been studied in conjunction, and little information was available about interactions or synergy between the dimensions; consequently, more studies would contribute to creating finely tuned teaching interventions. Benefiting from the recent technological advances in neurosciences, this paper presents a recently developed methodology to gather and synchronize data on multidimensional engagement during learning tasks. The technique involves the collection of (a) electroencephalography, (b) electrodermal, (c) eye-tracking, and (d) facial emotion recognition data on four different computers. This led to synchronization issues for data collected from multiple sources. Post synchronization in specialized integration software gives researchers a better understanding of the dynamics between the multiple dimensions of engagement. For curriculum developers, these data could provide informed guidelines for achieving better instruction/learning efficiency. This technique also opens up possibilities in the field of brain-computer interactions, where adaptive learning or assessment environments could be developed.
Behavior, Issue 101, Measurement of engagement, learning, neurophysiology, electroencephalography, signal synchronization, electrodermal activity, automatic facial emotion recognition, emotional valence, arousal
Vision Training Methods for Sports Concussion Mitigation and Management
Institutions: University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
There is emerging evidence supporting the use vision training, including light board training tools, as a concussion baseline and neuro-diagnostic tool and potentially as a supportive component to concussion prevention strategies. This paper is focused on providing detailed methods for select vision training tools and reporting normative data for comparison when vision training is a part of a sports management program. The overall program includes standard vision training methods including tachistoscope, Brock’s string, and strobe glasses, as well as specialized light board training algorithms. Stereopsis is measured as a means to monitor vision training affects. In addition, quantitative results for vision training methods as well as baseline and post-testing *A and Reaction Test measures with progressive scores are reported. Collegiate athletes consistently improve after six weeks of training in their stereopsis, *A and Reaction Test scores. When vision training is initiated as a team wide exercise, the incidence of concussion decreases in players who participate in training compared to players who do not receive the vision training. Vision training produces functional and performance changes that, when monitored, can be used to assess the success of the vision training and can be initiated as part of a sports medical intervention for concussion prevention.
Behavior, Issue 99, Vision training, peripheral vision, functional peripheral vision, concussion, concussion management, diagnosis, rehabilitation, eyes, sight, seeing, sight
The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
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
Phage Phenomics: Physiological Approaches to Characterize Novel Viral Proteins
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
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
Novel 3D/VR Interactive Environment for MD Simulations, Visualization and Analysis
Institutions: University of California Merced.
The increasing development of computing (hardware and software) in the last decades has impacted scientific research in many fields including materials science, biology, chemistry and physics among many others. A new computational system for the accurate and fast simulation and 3D/VR visualization of nanostructures is presented here, using the open-source molecular dynamics (MD) computer program LAMMPS. This alternative computational method uses modern graphics processors, NVIDIA CUDA technology and specialized scientific codes to overcome processing speed barriers common to traditional computing methods. In conjunction with a virtual reality system used to model materials, this enhancement allows the addition of accelerated MD simulation capability. The motivation is to provide a novel research environment which simultaneously allows visualization, simulation, modeling and analysis. The research goal is to investigate the structure and properties of inorganic nanostructures (e.g.,
silica glass nanosprings) under different conditions using this innovative computational system. The work presented outlines a description of the 3D/VR Visualization System and basic components, an overview of important considerations such as the physical environment, details on the setup and use of the novel system, a general procedure for the accelerated MD enhancement, technical information, and relevant remarks. The impact of this work is the creation of a unique computational system combining nanoscale materials simulation, visualization and interactivity in a virtual environment, which is both a research and teaching instrument at UC Merced.
Physics, Issue 94, Computational systems, visualization and immersive environments, interactive learning, graphical processing unit accelerated simulations, molecular dynamics simulations, nanostructures.
A Fully Automated Rodent Conditioning Protocol for Sensorimotor Integration and Cognitive Control Experiments
Institutions: Michigan State University, Michigan State University, Michigan State University.
Rodents have been traditionally used as a standard animal model in laboratory experiments involving a myriad of sensory, cognitive, and motor tasks. Higher cognitive functions that require precise control over sensorimotor responses such as decision-making and attentional modulation, however, are typically assessed in nonhuman primates. Despite the richness of primate behavior that allows multiple variants of these functions to be studied, the rodent model remains an attractive, cost-effective alternative to primate models. Furthermore, the ability to fully automate operant conditioning in rodents adds unique advantages over the labor intensive training of nonhuman primates while studying a broad range of these complex functions.
Here, we introduce a protocol for operantly conditioning rats on performing working memory tasks. During critical epochs of the task, the protocol ensures that the animal's overt movement is minimized by requiring the animal to 'fixate' until a Go cue is delivered, akin to nonhuman primate experimental design. A simple two alternative forced choice task is implemented to demonstrate the performance. We discuss the application of this paradigm to other tasks.
Behavior, Issue 86, operant conditioning, cognitive function, sensorimotor integration, decision making, Neurophysiology
Single-unit In vivo Recordings from the Optic Chiasm of Rat
Institutions: Boston University.
Information about the visual world is transmitted to the brain in sequences of action potentials in retinal ganglion cell axons that make up the optic nerve. In vivo
recordings of ganglion cell spike trains in several animal models have revealed much of what is known about how the early visual system processes and encodes visual information. However, such recordings have been rare in one of the most common animal models, the rat, possibly owing to difficulty in detecting spikes fired by small diameter axons. The many retinal disease models involving rats motivate a need for characterizing the functional properties of ganglion cells without disturbing the eye, as with intraocular or in vitro
recordings. Here, we demonstrate a method for recording ganglion cell spike trains from the optic chiasm of the anesthetized rat. We first show how to fabricate tungsten-in-glass electrodes that can pick up electrical activity from single ganglion cell axons in rat. The electrodes outperform all commercial ones that we have tried. We then illustrate our custom-designed stereotaxic system for in vivo
visual neurophysiology experiments and our procedures for animal preparation and reliable and stable electrode placement in the optic chiasm.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 38, retina, optic chiasm, tungsten electrodes, spike trains
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
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).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
One Dimensional Turing-Like Handshake Test for Motor Intelligence
Institutions: Ben-Gurion University.
In the Turing test, a computer model is deemed to "think intelligently" if it can generate answers that are not distinguishable from those of a human. However, this test is limited to the linguistic aspects of machine intelligence. A salient function of the brain is the control of movement, and the movement of the human hand is a sophisticated demonstration of this function. Therefore, we propose a Turing-like handshake test, for machine motor intelligence. We administer the test through a telerobotic system in which the interrogator is engaged in a task of holding a robotic stylus and interacting with another party (human or artificial). Instead of asking the interrogator whether the other party is a person or a computer program, we employ a two-alternative forced choice method and ask which of two systems is more human-like. We extract a quantitative grade for each model according to its resemblance to the human handshake motion and name it "Model Human-Likeness Grade" (MHLG). We present three methods to estimate the MHLG. (i) By calculating the proportion of subjects' answers that the model is more human-like than the human; (ii) By comparing two weighted sums of human and model handshakes we fit a psychometric curve and extract the point of subjective equality (PSE); (iii) By comparing a given model with a weighted sum of human and random signal, we fit a psychometric curve to the answers of the interrogator and extract the PSE for the weight of the human in the weighted sum. Altogether, we provide a protocol to test computational models of the human handshake. We believe that building a model is a necessary step in understanding any phenomenon and, in this case, in understanding the neural mechanisms responsible for the generation of the human handshake.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Turing test, Human Machine Interface, Haptics, Teleoperation, Motor Control, Motor Behavior, Diagnostics, Perception, handshake, telepresence
Genomic MRI - a Public Resource for Studying Sequence Patterns within Genomic DNA
Institutions: University of Toledo Health Science Campus.
Non-coding genomic regions in complex eukaryotes, including intergenic areas, introns, and untranslated segments of exons, are profoundly non-random in their nucleotide composition and consist of a complex mosaic of sequence patterns. These patterns include so-called Mid-Range Inhomogeneity (MRI) regions -- sequences 30-10000 nucleotides in length that are enriched by a particular base or combination of bases (e.g. (G+T)-rich, purine-rich, etc.). MRI regions are associated with unusual (non-B-form) DNA structures that are often involved in regulation of gene expression, recombination, and other genetic processes (Fedorova & Fedorov 2010). The existence of a strong fixation bias within MRI regions against mutations that tend to reduce their sequence inhomogeneity additionally supports the functionality and importance of these genomic sequences (Prakash et al.
Here we demonstrate a freely available Internet resource -- the Genomic MRI
program package -- designed for computational analysis of genomic sequences in order to find and characterize various MRI patterns within them (Bechtel et al.
2008). This package also allows generation of randomized sequences with various properties and level of correspondence to the natural input DNA sequences. The main goal of this resource is to facilitate examination of vast regions of non-coding DNA that are still scarcely investigated and await thorough exploration and recognition.
Genetics, Issue 51, bioinformatics, computational biology, genomics, non-randomness, signals, gene regulation, DNA conformation
A Fully Automated and Highly Versatile System for Testing Multi-cognitive Functions and Recording Neuronal Activities in Rodents
Institutions: The Neurosciences Institute, San Diego, CA.
We have developed a fully automated system for operant behavior testing and neuronal activity recording by which multiple cognitive brain functions can be investigated in a single task sequence. The unique feature of this system is a custom-made, acoustically transparent chamber that eliminates many of the issues associated with auditory cue control in most commercially available chambers. The ease with which operant devices can be added or replaced makes this system quite versatile, allowing for the implementation of a variety of auditory, visual, and olfactory behavioral tasks. Automation of the system allows fine temporal (10 ms) control and precise time-stamping of each event in a predesigned behavioral sequence. When combined with a multi-channel electrophysiology recording system, multiple cognitive brain functions, such as motivation, attention, decision-making, patience, and rewards, can be examined sequentially or independently.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, auditory behavioral task, acoustic chamber, cognition test, multi-channel recording, electrophysiology, attention, motivation, decision, patience, rat, two-alternative choice pitch discrimination task, behavior
High-resolution Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Methods for Human Midbrain
Institutions: The University of Texas at Austin.
Functional MRI (fMRI) is a widely used tool for non-invasively measuring correlates of human brain activity. However, its use has mostly been focused upon measuring activity on the surface of cerebral cortex rather than in subcortical regions such as midbrain and brainstem. Subcortical fMRI must overcome two challenges: spatial resolution and physiological noise. Here we describe an optimized set of techniques developed to perform high-resolution fMRI in human SC, a structure on the dorsal surface of the midbrain; the methods can also be used to image other brainstem and subcortical structures.
High-resolution (1.2 mm voxels) fMRI of the SC requires a non-conventional approach. The desired spatial sampling is obtained using a multi-shot (interleaved) spiral acquisition1
. Since, T2
* of SC tissue is longer than in cortex, a correspondingly longer echo time (TE
~ 40 msec) is used to maximize functional contrast. To cover the full extent of the SC, 8-10 slices are obtained. For each session a structural anatomy with the same slice prescription as the fMRI is also obtained, which is used to align the functional data to a high-resolution reference volume.
In a separate session, for each subject, we create a high-resolution (0.7 mm sampling) reference volume using a T1
-weighted sequence that gives good tissue contrast. In the reference volume, the midbrain region is segmented using the ITK-SNAP software application2
. This segmentation is used to create a 3D surface representation of the midbrain that is both smooth and accurate3
. The surface vertices and normals are used to create a map of depth from the midbrain surface within the tissue4
Functional data is transformed into the coordinate system of the segmented reference volume. Depth associations of the voxels enable the averaging of fMRI time series data within specified depth ranges to improve signal quality. Data is rendered on the 3D surface for visualization.
In our lab we use this technique for measuring topographic maps of visual stimulation and covert and overt visual attention within the SC1
. As an example, we demonstrate the topographic representation of polar angle to visual stimulation in SC.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, fMRI, midbrain, brainstem, colliculus, BOLD, brain, Magentic Resonance Imaging, MRI
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
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
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
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
Optimization of Synthetic Proteins: Identification of Interpositional Dependencies Indicating Structurally and/or Functionally Linked Residues
Institutions: The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Protein alignments are commonly used to evaluate the similarity of protein residues, and the derived consensus sequence used for identifying functional units (e.g.,
domains). Traditional consensus-building models fail to account for interpositional dependencies – functionally required covariation of residues that tend to appear simultaneously throughout evolution and across the phylogentic tree. These relationships can reveal important clues about the processes of protein folding, thermostability, and the formation of functional sites, which in turn can be used to inform the engineering of synthetic proteins. Unfortunately, these relationships essentially form sub-motifs which cannot be predicted by simple “majority rule” or even HMM-based consensus models, and the result can be a biologically invalid “consensus” which is not only never seen in nature but is less viable than any extant protein. We have developed a visual analytics tool, StickWRLD, which creates an interactive 3D representation of a protein alignment and clearly displays covarying residues. The user has the ability to pan and zoom, as well as dynamically change the statistical threshold underlying the identification of covariants. StickWRLD has previously been successfully used to identify functionally-required covarying residues in proteins such as Adenylate Kinase and in DNA sequences such as endonuclease target sites.
Chemistry, Issue 101, protein engineering, covariation, codependent residues, visualization