Telomeres are repeating DNA sequences at the tip ends of the chromosomes that are diverse in length and in humans can reach a length of 15,000 base pairs. The telomere serves as a bioprotective mechanism of chromosome attrition at each cell division. At a certain length, telomeres become too short to allow replication, a process that may lead to chromosome instability or cell death. Telomere length is regulated by two opposing mechanisms: attrition and elongation. Attrition occurs as each cell divides. In contrast, elongation is partially modulated by the enzyme telomerase, which adds repeating sequences to the ends of the chromosomes. In this way, telomerase could possibly reverse an aging mechanism and rejuvenates cell viability. These are crucial elements in maintaining cell life and are used to assess cellular aging. In this manuscript we will describe an accurate, short, sophisticated and cheap method to assess telomere length in multiple tissues and species. This method takes advantage of two key elements, the tandem repeat of the telomere sequence and the sensitivity of the qRT-PCR to detect differential copy numbers of tested samples. In addition, we will describe a simple assay to assess telomerase activity as a complementary backbone test for telomere length.
17 Related JoVE Articles!
Examination of the Telomere G-overhang Structure in Trypanosoma brucei
Institutions: Cleveland State University.
The telomere G-overhang structure has been identified in many eukaryotes including yeast, vertebrates, and Trypanosoma brucei
. It serves as the substrate for telomerase for de novo
telomere DNA synthesis and is therefore important for telomere maintenance. T. brucei
is a protozoan parasite that causes sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in cattle. Once infected mammalian host, T. brucei
cell regularly switches its surface antigen to evade the host's immune attack. We have recently demonstrated that the T. brucei
telomere structure plays an essential role in regulation of surface antigen gene expression, which is critical for T. brucei
pathogenesis. However, T. brucei
telomere structure has not been extensively studied due to the limitation of methods for analysis of this specialized structure. We have now successfully adopted the native in-gel hybridization and ligation-mediated primer extension methods for examination of the telomere G-overhang structure and an adaptor ligation method for determination of the telomere terminal nucleotide in T. brucei
cells. Here, we will describe the protocols in detail and compare their different advantages and limitations.
Immunology, Issue 47, Telomeres, telomeric G-overhang structure, native in-gel hybridization, ligation-mediated primer extension, Trypanosoma brucei
The Trier Social Stress Test Protocol for Inducing Psychological Stress
Institutions: Northern Arizona University.
This article demonstrates a psychological stress protocol for use in a laboratory setting. Protocols that allow researchers to study the biological pathways of the stress response in health and disease are fundamental to the progress of research in stress and anxiety.1
Although numerous protocols exist for inducing stress response in the laboratory, many neglect to provide a naturalistic context or to incorporate aspects of social and psychological stress. Of psychological stress protocols, meta-analysis suggests that the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is the most useful and appropriate standardized protocol for studies of stress hormone reactivity.2
In the original description of the TSST, researchers sought to design and evaluate a procedure capable of inducing a reliable stress response in the majority of healthy volunteers.3
These researchers found elevations in heart rate, blood pressure and several endocrine stress markers in response to the TSST (a psychological stressor) compared to a saline injection (a physical stressor).3
Although the TSST has been modified to meet the needs of various research groups, it generally consists of a waiting period upon arrival, anticipatory speech preparation, speech performance, and verbal arithmetic performance periods, followed by one or more recovery periods. The TSST requires participants to prepare and deliver a speech, and verbally respond to a challenging arithmetic problem in the presence of a socially evaluative audience.3
Social evaluation and uncontrollability have been identified as key components of stress induction by the TSST.4
In use for over a decade, the goal of the TSST is to systematically induce a stress response in order to measure differences in reactivity, anxiety and activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) or sympathetic-adrenal-medullary (SAM) axis during the task.1
Researchers generally assess changes in self-reported anxiety, physiological measures (e.g. heart rate), and/or neuroendocrine indices (e.g. the stress hormone cortisol) in response to the TSST. Many investigators have adopted salivary sampling for stress markers such as cortisol and alpha-amylase (a marker of autonomic nervous system activation) as an alternative to blood sampling to reduce the confounding stress of blood-collection techniques. In addition to changes experienced by an individual completing the TSST, researchers can compare changes between different treatment groups (e.g. clinical versus healthy control samples) or the effectiveness of stress-reducing interventions.1
Medicine, Issue 56, Stress, anxiety, laboratory stressor, cortisol, physiological response, psychological stressor
Handwriting Analysis Indicates Spontaneous Dyskinesias in Neuroleptic Naïve Adolescents at High Risk for Psychosis
Institutions: University of Colorado Boulder, NeuroScript LLC, University of California, San Diego.
Growing evidence suggests that movement abnormalities are a core feature of psychosis. One marker of movement abnormality, dyskinesia, is a result of impaired neuromodulation of dopamine in fronto-striatal pathways. The traditional methods for identifying movement abnormalities include observer-based reports and force stability gauges. The drawbacks of these methods are long training times for raters, experimenter bias, large site differences in instrumental apparatus, and suboptimal reliability. Taking these drawbacks into account has guided the development of better standardized and more efficient procedures to examine movement abnormalities through handwriting analysis software and tablet. Individuals at risk for psychosis showed significantly more dysfluent pen movements (a proximal measure for dyskinesia) in a handwriting task. Handwriting kinematics offers a great advance over previous methods of assessing dyskinesia, which could clearly be beneficial for understanding the etiology of psychosis.
Behavior, Issue 81, Schizophrenia, Disorders with Psychotic Features, Psychology, Clinical, Psychopathology, behavioral sciences, Movement abnormalities, Ultra High Risk, psychosis, handwriting, computer tablet, dyskinesia
Behavioral and Locomotor Measurements Using an Open Field Activity Monitoring System for Skeletal Muscle Diseases
Institutions: Children's National Medical Center, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
The open field activity monitoring system comprehensively assesses locomotor and behavioral activity levels of mice. It is a useful tool for assessing locomotive impairment in animal models of neuromuscular disease and efficacy of therapeutic drugs that may improve locomotion and/or muscle function. The open field activity measurement provides a different measure than muscle strength, which is commonly assessed by grip strength measurements. It can also show how drugs may affect other body systems as well when used with additional outcome measures. In addition, measures such as total distance traveled mirror the 6 min walk test, a clinical trial outcome measure. However, open field activity monitoring is also associated with significant challenges: Open field activity measurements vary according to animal strain, age, sex, and circadian rhythm. In addition, room temperature, humidity, lighting, noise, and even odor can affect assessment outcomes. Overall, this manuscript provides a well-tested and standardized open field activity SOP for preclinical trials in animal models of neuromuscular diseases. We provide a discussion of important considerations, typical results, data analysis, and detail the strengths and weaknesses of open field testing. In addition, we provide recommendations for optimal study design when using open field activity in a preclinical trial.
Behavior, Issue 91, open field activity, functional testing, behavioral testing, skeletal muscle, congenital muscular dystrophy, muscular dystrophy
Rapid Analysis of Chromosome Aberrations in Mouse B Lymphocytes by PNA-FISH
Institutions: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.
Defective DNA repair leads to increased genomic instability, which is the root cause of mutations that lead to tumorigenesis. Analysis of the frequency and type of chromosome aberrations in different cell types allows defects in DNA repair pathways to be elucidated. Understanding mammalian DNA repair biology has been greatly helped by the production of mice with knockouts in specific genes. The goal of this protocol is to quantify genomic instability in mouse B lymphocytes. Labeling of the telomeres using PNA-FISH probes (peptide nucleic acid - fluorescent in situ
hybridization) facilitates the rapid analysis of genomic instability in metaphase chromosome spreads. B cells have specific advantages relative to fibroblasts, because they have normal ploidy and a higher mitotic index. Short-term culture of B cells therefore enables precise measurement of genomic instability in a primary cell population which is likely to have fewer secondary genetic mutations than what is typically found in transformed fibroblasts or patient cell lines.
Immunology, Issue 90, genomic instability, DNA repair, mouse, metaphase spread, FISH, primary culture
Getting to Compliance in Forced Exercise in Rodents: A Critical Standard to Evaluate Exercise Impact in Aging-related Disorders and Disease
Institutions: Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
There is a major increase in the awareness of the positive impact of exercise on improving several disease states with neurobiological basis; these include improving cognitive function and physical performance. As a result, there is an increase in the number of animal studies employing exercise. It is argued that one intrinsic value of forced exercise is that the investigator has control over the factors that can influence the impact of exercise on behavioral outcomes, notably exercise frequency, duration, and intensity of the exercise regimen. However, compliance in forced exercise regimens may be an issue, particularly if potential confounds of employing foot-shock are to be avoided. It is also important to consider that since most cognitive and locomotor impairments strike in the aged individual, determining impact of exercise on these impairments should consider using aged rodents with a highest possible level of compliance to ensure minimal need for test subjects. Here, the pertinent steps and considerations necessary to achieve nearly 100% compliance to treadmill exercise in an aged rodent model will be presented and discussed. Notwithstanding the particular exercise regimen being employed by the investigator, our protocol should be of use to investigators that are particularly interested in the potential impact of forced exercise on aging-related impairments, including aging-related Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease.
Behavior, Issue 90, Exercise, locomotor, Parkinson’s disease, aging, treadmill, bradykinesia, Parkinsonism
Propagation of Homalodisca coagulata virus-01 via Homalodisca vitripennis Cell Culture
Institutions: University of Texas at Tyler, USDA ARS.
The glassy-winged sharpshooter (Homalodisca vitripennis
) is a highly vagile and polyphagous insect found throughout the southwestern United States. These insects are the predominant vectors of Xylella fastidiosa (X. fastidiosa),
a xylem-limited bacterium that is the causal agent of Pierce's disease (PD) of grapevine. Pierce’s disease is economically damaging; thus, H. vitripennis
have become a target for pathogen management strategies. A dicistrovirus identified as Homalodisca coagulata virus-01
(HoCV-01) has been associated with an increased mortality in H. vitripennis
populations. Because a host cell is required for HoCV-01 replication, cell culture provides a uniform environment for targeted replication that is logistically and economically valuable for biopesticide production. In this study, a system for large-scale propagation of H. vitripennis
cells via tissue culture was developed, providing a viral replication mechanism. HoCV-01 was extracted from whole body insects and used to inoculate cultured H. vitripennis
cells at varying levels. The culture medium was removed every 24 hr for 168 hr, RNA extracted and analyzed with qRT-PCR. Cells were stained with trypan blue and counted to quantify cell survivability using light microscopy. Whole virus particles were extracted up to 96 hr after infection, which was the time point determined to be before total cell culture collapse occurred. Cells were also subjected to fluorescent staining and viewed using confocal microscopy to investigate viral activity on F-actin attachment and nuclei integrity. The conclusion of this study is that H. vitripennis
cells are capable of being cultured and used for mass production of HoCV-01 at a suitable level to allow production of a biopesticide.
Infection, Issue 91, Homalodisca vitripennis, Homalodisca coagulata virus-01, cell culture, Pierce’s disease of grapevine, Xylella fastidiosa, Dicistroviridae
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
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Institutions: Alpert Medical School, Brown University, University of Georgia.
Complementary structural and functional neuroimaging techniques used to examine the Default Mode Network (DMN) could potentially improve assessments of psychiatric illness severity and provide added validity to the clinical diagnostic process. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that DMN processes may be disrupted in a number of stress-related psychiatric illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although specific DMN functions remain under investigation, it is generally thought to be involved in introspection and self-processing. In healthy individuals it exhibits greatest activity during periods of rest, with less activity, observed as deactivation, during cognitive tasks, e.g.
, working memory. This network consists of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, lateral parietal cortices and medial temporal regions.
Multiple functional and structural imaging approaches have been developed to study the DMN. These have unprecedented potential to further the understanding of the function and dysfunction of this network. Functional approaches, such as the evaluation of resting state connectivity and task-induced deactivation, have excellent potential to identify targeted neurocognitive and neuroaffective (functional) diagnostic markers and may indicate illness severity and prognosis with increased accuracy or specificity. Structural approaches, such as evaluation of morphometry and connectivity, may provide unique markers of etiology and long-term outcomes. Combined, functional and structural methods provide strong multimodal, complementary and synergistic approaches to develop valid DMN-based imaging phenotypes in stress-related psychiatric conditions. This protocol aims to integrate these methods to investigate DMN structure and function in PTSD, relating findings to illness severity and relevant clinical factors.
Medicine, Issue 89, default mode network, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, structural connectivity, functional connectivity, posttraumatic stress disorder
EEG Mu Rhythm in Typical and Atypical Development
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is an effective, efficient, and noninvasive method of assessing and recording brain activity. Given the excellent temporal resolution, EEG can be used to examine the neural response related to specific behaviors, states, or external stimuli. An example of this utility is the assessment of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in humans through the examination of the EEG mu rhythm. The EEG mu rhythm, oscillatory activity in the 8-12 Hz frequency range recorded from centrally located electrodes, is suppressed when an individual executes, or simply observes, goal directed actions. As such, it has been proposed to reflect activity of the MNS. It has been theorized that dysfunction in the mirror neuron system (MNS) plays a contributing role in the social deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The MNS can then be noninvasively examined in clinical populations by using EEG mu rhythm attenuation as an index for its activity. The described protocol provides an avenue to examine social cognitive functions theoretically linked to the MNS in individuals with typical and atypical development, such as ASD.
Medicine, Issue 86, Electroencephalography (EEG), mu rhythm, imitation, autism spectrum disorder, social cognition, mirror neuron system
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
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
Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
P50 Sensory Gating in Infants
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Colorado State University.
Attentional deficits are common in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar mood disorder, and schizophrenia. There has been increasing interest in the neurodevelopmental components of these attentional deficits; neurodevelopmental meaning that while the deficits become clinically prominent in childhood or adulthood, the deficits are the results of problems in brain development that begin in infancy or even prenatally. Despite this interest, there are few methods for assessing attention very early in infancy. This report focuses on one method, infant auditory P50 sensory gating.
Attention has several components. One of the earliest components of attention, termed sensory gating, allows the brain to tune out repetitive, noninformative sensory information. Auditory P50 sensory gating refers to one task designed to measure sensory gating using changes in EEG. When identical auditory stimuli are presented 500 ms apart, the evoked response (change in the EEG associated with the processing of the click) to the second stimulus is generally reduced relative to the response to the first stimulus (i.e.
the response is "gated"). When response to the second stimulus is not reduced, this is considered a poor sensory gating, is reflective of impaired cerebral inhibition, and is correlated with attentional deficits.
Because the auditory P50 sensory gating task is passive, it is of potential utility in the study of young infants and may provide a window into the developmental time course of attentional deficits in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders. The goal of this presentation is to describe the methodology for assessing infant auditory P50 sensory gating, a methodology adapted from those used in studies of adult populations.
Behavior, Issue 82, Child Development, Psychophysiology, Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders, Evoked Potentials, Auditory, auditory evoked potential, sensory gating, infant, attention, electrophysiology, infants, sensory gating, endophenotype, attention, P50
Real-time fMRI Biofeedback Targeting the Orbitofrontal Cortex for Contamination Anxiety
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine .
We present a method for training subjects to control activity in a region of their orbitofrontal cortex associated with contamination anxiety using biofeedback of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rt-fMRI) data. Increased activity of this region is seen in relationship with contamination anxiety both in control subjects1
and in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),2
a relatively common and often debilitating psychiatric disorder involving contamination anxiety. Although many brain regions have been implicated in OCD, abnormality in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is one of the most consistent findings.3, 4
Furthermore, hyperactivity in the OFC has been found to correlate with OCD symptom severity5
and decreases in hyperactivity in this region have been reported to correlate with decreased symptom severity.6
Therefore, the ability to control this brain area may translate into clinical improvements in obsessive-compulsive symptoms including contamination anxiety. Biofeedback of rt-fMRI data is a new technique in which the temporal pattern of activity in a specific region (or associated with a specific distributed pattern of brain activity) in a subject's brain is provided as a feedback signal to the subject. Recent reports indicate that people are able to develop control over the activity of specific brain areas when provided with rt-fMRI biofeedback.7-12
In particular, several studies using this technique to target brain areas involved in emotion processing have reported success in training subjects to control these regions.13-18
In several cases, rt-fMRI biofeedback training has been reported to induce cognitive, emotional, or clinical changes in subjects.8, 9, 13, 19
Here we illustrate this technique as applied to the treatment of contamination anxiety in healthy subjects. This biofeedback intervention will be a valuable basic research tool: it allows researchers to perturb brain function, measure the resulting changes in brain dynamics and relate those to changes in contamination anxiety or other behavioral measures. In addition, the establishment of this method serves as a first step towards the investigation of fMRI-based biofeedback as a therapeutic intervention for OCD. Given that approximately a quarter of patients with OCD receive little benefit from the currently available forms of treatment,20-22
and that those who do benefit rarely recover completely, new approaches for treating this population are urgently needed.
Medicine, Issue 59, Real-time fMRI, rt-fMRI, neurofeedback, biofeedback, orbitofrontal cortex, OFC, obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD, contamination anxiety, resting connectivity
The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology