The system comprising bacteriophage (phage) lambda and the bacterium E. coli has long served as a paradigm for cell-fate determination1,2. Following the simultaneous infection of the cell by a number of phages, one of two pathways is chosen: lytic (virulent) or lysogenic (dormant)3,4. We recently developed a method for fluorescently labeling individual phages, and were able to examine the post-infection decision in real-time under the microscope, at the level of individual phages and cells5. Here, we describe the full procedure for performing the infection experiments described in our earlier work5. This includes the creation of fluorescent phages, infection of the cells, imaging under the microscope and data analysis. The fluorescent phage is a "hybrid", co-expressing wild- type and YFP-fusion versions of the capsid gpD protein. A crude phage lysate is first obtained by inducing a lysogen of the gpD-EYFP (Enhanced Yellow Fluorescent Protein) phage, harboring a plasmid expressing wild type gpD. A series of purification steps are then performed, followed by DAPI-labeling and imaging under the microscope. This is done in order to verify the uniformity, DNA packaging efficiency, fluorescence signal and structural stability of the phage stock. The initial adsorption of phages to bacteria is performed on ice, then followed by a short incubation at 35°C to trigger viral DNA injection6. The phage/bacteria mixture is then moved to the surface of a thin nutrient agar slab, covered with a coverslip and imaged under an epifluorescence microscope. The post-infection process is followed for 4 hr, at 10 min interval. Multiple stage positions are tracked such that ~100 cell infections can be traced in a single experiment. At each position and time point, images are acquired in the phase-contrast and red and green fluorescent channels. The phase-contrast image is used later for automated cell recognition while the fluorescent channels are used to characterize the infection outcome: production of new fluorescent phages (green) followed by cell lysis, or expression of lysogeny factors (red) followed by resumed cell growth and division. The acquired time-lapse movies are processed using a combination of manual and automated methods. Data analysis results in the identification of infection parameters for each infection event (e.g. number and positions of infecting phages) as well as infection outcome (lysis/lysogeny). Additional parameters can be extracted if desired.
14 Related JoVE Articles!
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Biosensor for Detection of Antibiotic Resistant Staphylococcus Bacteria
Institutions: Auburn University , Keesler Air Force Base.
A structurally transformed lytic bacteriophage having a broad host range of Staphylococcus aureus
strains and a penicillin-binding protein (PBP 2a) antibody conjugated latex beads have been utilized to create a biosensor designed for discrimination of methicillin resistant (MRSA) and sensitive (MSSA) S. aureus
. The lytic phages have been converted into phage spheroids by contact with water-chloroform interface. Phage spheroid monolayers have been moved onto a biosensor surface by Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) technique 3
. The created biosensors have been examined by a quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation tracking (QCM-D) to evaluate bacteria-phage interactions. Bacteria-spheroid interactions led to reduced resonance frequency and a rise in dissipation energy for both MRSA and MSSA strains. After the bacterial binding, these sensors have been further exposed to the penicillin-binding protein antibody latex beads. Sensors analyzed with MRSA responded to PBP 2a antibody beads; although sensors inspected with MSSA gave no response. This experimental distinction determines an unambiguous discrimination between methicillin resistant and sensitive S. aureus
strains. Equally bound and unbound bacteriophages suppress bacterial growth on surfaces and in water suspensions. Once lytic phages are changed into spheroids, they retain their strong lytic activity and show high bacterial capture capability. The phage and phage spheroids can be utilized for testing and sterilization of antibiotic resistant microorganisms. Other applications may include use in bacteriophage therapy and antimicrobial surfaces.
Bioengineering, Issue 75, Microbiology, Infectious Diseases, Infection, Medicine, Immunology, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Anatomy, Physiology, Bacteria, Pharmacology, Staphylococcus, Bacteriophages, phage, Binding, Competitive, Biophysics, surface properties (nonmetallic materials), surface wave acoustic devices (electronic design), sensors, Lytic phage spheroids, QCM-D, Langmuir-Blodgett (LB) monolayers, MRSA, Staphylococcus aureus, assay
A Protocol for Phage Display and Affinity Selection Using Recombinant Protein Baits
Institutions: University of Kentucky .
Using recombinant phage as a scaffold to present various protein portions encoded by a directionally cloned cDNA library to immobilized bait molecules is an efficient means to discover interactions. The technique has largely been used to discover protein-protein interactions but the bait molecule to be challenged need not be restricted to proteins. The protocol presented here has been optimized to allow a modest number of baits to be screened in replicates to maximize the identification of independent clones presenting the same protein. This permits greater confidence that interacting proteins identified are legitimate interactors of the bait molecule. Monitoring the phage titer after each affinity selection round provides information on how the affinity selection is progressing as well as on the efficacy of negative controls. One means of titering the phage, and how and what to prepare in advance to allow this process to progress as efficiently as possible, is presented. Attributes of amplicons retrieved following isolation of independent plaque are highlighted that can be used to ascertain how well the affinity selection has progressed. Trouble shooting techniques to minimize false positives or to bypass persistently recovered phage are explained. Means of reducing viral contamination flare up are discussed.
Biochemistry, Issue 84, Affinity selection, Phage display, protein-protein interaction
Large Insert Environmental Genomic Library Production
Institutions: University of British Columbia - UBC.
The vast majority of microbes in nature currently remain inaccessible to traditional cultivation methods. Over the past decade, culture-independent environmental genomic (i.e.
metagenomic) approaches have emerged, enabling researchers to bridge this cultivation gap by capturing the genetic content of indigenous microbial communities directly from the environment. To this end, genomic DNA libraries are constructed using standard albeit artful laboratory cloning techniques. Here we describe the construction of a large insert environmental genomic fosmid library with DNA derived from the vertical depth continuum of a seasonally hypoxic fjord. This protocol is directly linked to a series of connected protocols including coastal marine water sampling , large volume filtration of microbial biomass  and a DNA extraction and purification protocol . At the outset, high quality genomic DNA is end-repaired with the creation of 5 -phosphorylated blunt ends. End-repaired DNA is subjected to pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) for size selection and gel extraction is performed to recover DNA fragments between 30 and 60 thousand base pairs (Kb) in length. Size selected DNA is purified away from the PFGE gel matrix and ligated to the phosphatase-treated blunt-end fosmid CopyControl vector pCC1 (EPICENTRE https://www.epibio.com/item.asp?ID=385). Linear concatemers of pCC1 and insert DNA are subsequently headfull packaged into phage particles by lambda terminase, with subsequent infection of phage-resistant E. coli
cells. Successfully transduced clones are recovered on LB agar plates under antibiotic selection and archived in 384-well plate format using an automated colony picking robot (Qpix2, GENETIX). The current protocol draws from various sources including the CopyControl Fosmid Library Production Kit from EPICENTRE and the published works of multiple research groups [4-7]. Each step is presented with best practice in mind. Whenever possible we highlight subtleties in execution to improve overall quality and efficiency of library production. The whole process of fosmid library production and automated colony picking takes at least 7-10 days as there are many incubation steps included. However, there are several stopping points possible which are mentioned within the protocol.
Basic Protocols, Issue 31, environmental genomic, metagenomic, genomic DNA, large insert library, fosmid, phage packaging, automated colony picking
A Visual Assay to Monitor T6SS-mediated Bacterial Competition
Institutions: Imperial College London .
Type VI secretion systems (T6SSs) are molecular nanomachines allowing Gram-negative bacteria to transport and inject proteins into a wide variety of target cells1,2
. The T6SS is composed of 13 core components and displays structural similarities with the tail-tube of bacteriophages3
. The phage uses a tube and a puncturing device to penetrate the cell envelope of target bacteria and inject DNA. It is proposed that the T6SS is an inverted bacteriophage device creating a specific path in the bacterial cell envelope to drive effectors and toxins to the surface. The process could be taken further and the T6SS device could perforate other cells with which the bacterium is in contact, thus injecting the effectors into these targets. The tail tube and puncturing device parts of the T6SS are made with Hcp and VgrG proteins, respectively4,5
The versatility of the T6SS has been demonstrated through studies using various bacterial pathogens. The Vibrio cholerae
T6SS can remodel the cytoskeleton of eukaryotic host cells by injecting an "evolved" VgrG carrying a C-terminal actin cross-linking domain6,7
. Another striking example was recently documented using Pseudomonas aeruginosa
which is able to target and kill bacteria in a T6SS-dependent manner, therefore promoting the establishment of bacteria in specific microbial niches and competitive environment8,9,10
In the latter case,
three T6SS-secreted proteins, namely Tse1, Tse2 and Tse3 have been identified as the toxins injected in the target bacteria (Figure 1
). The donor cell is protected from the deleterious effect of these effectors via an anti-toxin mechanism, mediated by the Tsi1, Tsi2 and Tsi3 immunity proteins8,9,10
. This antimicrobial activity can be monitored when T6SS-proficient bacteria are co-cultivated on solid surfaces in competition with other bacterial species or with T6SS-inactive bacteria of the same species8,11,12,13
The data available emphasized a numerical approach to the bacterial competition assay, including time-consuming CFU counting that depends greatly on antibiotic makers. In the case of antibiotic resistant strains like P. aeruginosa
, these methods can be inappropriate. Moreover, with the identification of about 200 different T6SS loci in more than 100 bacterial genomes14
, a convenient screening tool is highly desirable. We developed an assay that is easy to use and requires standard laboratory material and reagents. The method offers a rapid and qualitative technique to monitor the T6SS-dependent bactericidal/bacteriostasis activity by using a reporter strain as a prey (in this case Escherichia coli
DH5α) allowing a-complementation of the lacZ
gene. Overall, this method is graphic and allows rapid identification of T6SS-related phenotypes on agar plates. This experimental protocol may be adapted to other strains or bacterial species taking into account specific conditions such as growth media, temperature or time of contact.
Infection, Issue 73, Microbiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Cellular Biology, Bacteriology, Bacteria, Type Six Secretion System, T6SS, Bacterial Competition, Killing Assay, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, E. coli, lacZ, CFU, bacterial screen, pathogens, assay
Peptides from Phage Display Library Modulate Gene Expression in Mesenchymal Cells and Potentiate Osteogenesis in Unicortical Bone Defects
Institutions: University of Virginia, University of Delaware, University of Virginia.
Two novel synthetic peptides accelerate bone formation and can be delivered using a collagen matrix. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects on bone repair in a unicortical defect model. Treatment of mesenchymal cells produced an increase in alkaline phosphatase activity, showed nodule formation by the cells, and increased the expression of genes for runx2, osterix, bone sialoprotein, and osteocalcin. A collagen sponge soaked with peptide promoted repair of bone defects, whereas the control was less effective. The results from this study demonstrated that mesenchymal cells treated with peptide in vitro
differentiate towards osteogenesis, and, that peptides delivered in vivo
using a collagen sponge promote the repair of unicortical defects.
Cellular Biology, Issue 46, osteogenesis, peptide, bone repair, anabolic effect
Isolation and Genome Analysis of Single Virions using 'Single Virus Genomics'
Institutions: The J. Craig Venter Institute.
Whole genome amplification and sequencing of single microbial cells enables genomic characterization without the need of cultivation 1-3
. Viruses, which are ubiquitous and the most numerous entities on our planet 4
and important in all environments 5
, have yet to be revealed via similar approaches. Here we describe an approach for isolating and characterizing the genomes of single virions called 'Single Virus Genomics' (SVG). SVG utilizes flow cytometry to isolate individual viruses and whole genome amplification to obtain high molecular weight genomic DNA (gDNA) that can be used in subsequent sequencing reactions.
Genetics, Issue 75, Microbiology, Immunology, Virology, Molecular Biology, Environmental Sciences, Genomics, environmental genomics, Single virus, single virus genomics, SVG, whole genome amplification, flow cytometry, viral ecology, virion, genome analysis, DNA, PCR, sequencing
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
'Bioluminescent' Reporter Phage for the Detection of Category A Bacterial Pathogens
Institutions: Guild Associates, Inc., University of Texas at Austin, Medical University of South Carolina.
and Bacillus anthracis
are Category A bacterial pathogens that are the causative agents of the plague and anthrax, respectively 1
. Although the natural occurrence of both diseases' is now relatively rare, the possibility of terrorist groups using these pathogens as a bioweapon is real. Because of the disease's inherent communicability, rapid clinical course, and high mortality rate, it is critical that an outbreak be detected quickly. Therefore methodologies that provide rapid detection and diagnosis are essential to ensure immediate implementation of public health measures and activation of crisis management.
Recombinant reporter phage may provide a rapid and specific approach for the detection of Y. pestis
and B. anthracis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently use the classical phage lysis assays for the confirmed identification of these bacterial pathogens 2-4
. These assays take advantage of naturally occurring phage which are specific and lytic for their bacterial hosts. After overnight growth of the cultivated bacterium in the presence of the specific phage, the formation of plaques (bacterial lysis) provides a positive identification of the bacterial target. Although these assays are robust, they suffer from three shortcomings: 1) they are laboratory based; 2) they require bacterial isolation and cultivation from the suspected sample, and 3) they take 24-36 h to complete. To address these issues, recombinant "light-tagged" reporter phage were genetically engineered by integrating the Vibrio harveyi luxAB
genes into the genome of Y. pestis
and B. anthracis
specific phage 5-8
. The resulting luxAB
reporter phage were able to detect their specific target by rapidly (within minutes) and sensitively conferring a bioluminescent phenotype to recipient cells. Importantly, detection was obtained either with cultivated recipient cells or with mock-infected clinical specimens 7
For demonstration purposes, here we describe the method for the phage-mediated detection of a known Y. pestis
isolate using a luxAB
reporter phage constructed from the CDC plague diagnostic phage ΦA1122 6,7
(Figure 1). A similar method, with minor modifications (e.g. change in growth temperature and media), may be used for the detection of B. anthracis
isolates using the B. anthracis
reporter phage Wβ::luxAB 8
. The method describes the phage-mediated transduction of a biolumescent phenotype to cultivated Y. pestis
cells which are subsequently measured using a microplate luminometer. The major advantages of this method over the traditional phage lysis assays is the ease of use, the rapid results, and the ability to test multiple samples simultaneously in a 96-well microtiter plate format.
Figure 1. Detection schematic.
The phage are mixed with the sample, the phage infects the cell, luxAB
are expressed, and the cell bioluminesces. Sample processing is not necessary; the phage and cells are mixed and subsequently measured for light.
Immunology, Issue 53, Reporter phage, bioluminescence, detection, plague, anthrax
Transgenic Rodent Assay for Quantifying Male Germ Cell Mutant Frequency
Institutions: Environmental Health Centre.
mutations arise mostly in the male germline and may contribute to adverse health outcomes in subsequent generations. Traditional methods for assessing the induction of germ cell mutations require the use of large numbers of animals, making them impractical. As such, germ cell mutagenicity is rarely assessed during chemical testing and risk assessment. Herein, we describe an in vivo
male germ cell mutation assay using a transgenic rodent model that is based on a recently approved Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) test guideline. This method uses an in vitro
positive selection assay to measure in vivo
mutations induced in a transgenic λgt10 vector bearing a reporter gene directly in the germ cells of exposed males. We further describe how the detection of mutations in the transgene recovered from germ cells can be used to characterize the stage-specific sensitivity of the various spermatogenic cell types to mutagen exposure by controlling three experimental parameters: the duration of exposure (administration time), the time between exposure and sample collection (sampling time), and the cell population collected for analysis. Because a large number of germ cells can be assayed from a single male, this method has superior sensitivity compared with traditional methods, requires fewer animals and therefore much less time and resources.
Genetics, Issue 90, sperm, spermatogonia, male germ cells, spermatogenesis, de novo mutation, OECD TG 488, transgenic rodent mutation assay, N-ethyl-N-nitrosourea, genetic toxicology
Polymerase Chain Reaction: Basic Protocol Plus Troubleshooting and Optimization Strategies
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
In the biological sciences there have been technological advances that catapult the discipline into golden ages of discovery. For example, the field of microbiology was transformed with the advent of Anton van Leeuwenhoek's microscope, which allowed scientists to visualize prokaryotes for the first time. The development of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of those innovations that changed the course of molecular science with its impact spanning countless subdisciplines in biology. The theoretical process was outlined by Keppe and coworkers in 1971; however, it was another 14 years until the complete PCR procedure was described and experimentally applied by Kary Mullis while at Cetus Corporation in 1985. Automation and refinement of this technique progressed with the introduction of a thermal stable DNA polymerase from the bacterium Thermus aquaticus
, consequently the name Taq
PCR is a powerful amplification technique that can generate an ample supply of a specific segment of DNA (i.e., an amplicon) from only a small amount of starting material (i.e., DNA template or target sequence). While straightforward and generally trouble-free, there are pitfalls that complicate the reaction producing spurious results. When PCR fails it can lead to many non-specific DNA products of varying sizes that appear as a ladder or smear of bands on agarose gels. Sometimes no products form at all. Another potential problem occurs when mutations are unintentionally introduced in the amplicons, resulting in a heterogeneous population of PCR products. PCR failures can become frustrating unless patience and careful troubleshooting are employed to sort out and solve the problem(s). This protocol outlines the basic principles of PCR, provides a methodology that will result in amplification of most target sequences, and presents strategies for optimizing a reaction. By following this PCR guide, students should be able to:
Set up reactions and thermal cycling conditions for a conventional PCR experiment
Understand the function of various reaction components and their overall effect on a PCR experiment
Design and optimize a PCR experiment for any DNA template
Troubleshoot failed PCR experiments
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, PCR, optimization, primer design, melting temperature, Tm, troubleshooting, additives, enhancers, template DNA quantification, thermal cycler, molecular biology, genetics
Identifying DNA Mutations in Purified Hematopoietic Stem/Progenitor Cells
Institutions: UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In recent years, it has become apparent that genomic instability is tightly related to many developmental disorders, cancers, and aging. Given that stem cells are responsible for ensuring tissue homeostasis and repair throughout life, it is reasonable to hypothesize that the stem cell population is critical for preserving genomic integrity of tissues. Therefore, significant interest has arisen in assessing the impact of endogenous and environmental factors on genomic integrity in stem cells and their progeny, aiming to understand the etiology of stem-cell based diseases.
transgenic mice carry a recoverable λ phage vector encoding the LacI
reporter system, in which the LacI
gene serves as the mutation reporter. The result of a mutated LacI
gene is the production of β-galactosidase that cleaves a chromogenic substrate, turning it blue. The LacI
reporter system is carried in all cells, including stem/progenitor cells and can easily be recovered and used to subsequently infect E. coli
. After incubating infected E. coli
on agarose that contains the correct substrate, plaques can be scored; blue plaques indicate a mutant LacI
gene, while clear plaques harbor wild-type. The frequency of blue (among clear) plaques indicates the mutant frequency in the original cell population the DNA was extracted from. Sequencing the mutant LacI
gene will show the location of the mutations in the gene and the type of mutation.
transgenic mouse model is well-established as an in vivo
mutagenesis assay. Moreover, the mice and the reagents for the assay are commercially available. Here we describe in detail how this model can be adapted to measure the frequency of spontaneously occurring DNA mutants in stem cell-enriched Lin-
(LSK) cells and other subpopulations of the hematopoietic system.
Infection, Issue 84, In vivo mutagenesis, hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, LacI mouse model, DNA mutations, E. coli
Reconstitution of a Kv Channel into Lipid Membranes for Structural and Functional Studies
Institutions: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
To study the lipid-protein interaction in a reductionistic fashion, it is necessary to incorporate the membrane proteins into membranes of well-defined lipid composition. We are studying the lipid-dependent gating effects in a prototype voltage-gated potassium (Kv) channel, and have worked out detailed procedures to reconstitute the channels into different membrane systems. Our reconstitution procedures take consideration of both detergent-induced fusion of vesicles and the fusion of protein/detergent micelles with the lipid/detergent mixed micelles as well as the importance of reaching an equilibrium distribution of lipids among the protein/detergent/lipid and the detergent/lipid mixed micelles. Our data suggested that the insertion of the channels in the lipid vesicles is relatively random in orientations, and the reconstitution efficiency is so high that no detectable protein aggregates were seen in fractionation experiments. We have utilized the reconstituted channels to determine the conformational states of the channels in different lipids, record electrical activities of a small number of channels incorporated in planar lipid bilayers, screen for conformation-specific ligands from a phage-displayed peptide library, and support the growth of 2D crystals of the channels in membranes. The reconstitution procedures described here may be adapted for studying other membrane proteins in lipid bilayers, especially for the investigation of the lipid effects on the eukaryotic voltage-gated ion channels.
Molecular Biology, Issue 77, Biochemistry, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Structural Biology, Biophysics, Membrane Lipids, Phospholipids, Carrier Proteins, Membrane Proteins, Micelles, Molecular Motor Proteins, life sciences, biochemistry, Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, lipid-protein interaction, channel reconstitution, lipid-dependent gating, voltage-gated ion channel, conformation-specific ligands, lipids
Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1
and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2
. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4
. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior.
We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers.
The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making