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.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
Marble Burying and Nestlet Shredding as Tests of Repetitive, Compulsive-like Behaviors in Mice
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are serious and debilitating psychiatric conditions and each constitutes a significant public health concern, particularly in children. Both of these conditions are highlighted by the repeated expression of meaningless behaviors. Individuals with OCD often show checking, frequent hand washing, and counting. Children with ASDs also engage in repetitive tapping, arm or hand flapping, and rocking. These behaviors can vary widely in intensity and frequency of expression. More intense forms of repetitive behaviors can even result in injury (e.g.
excessive grooming, hand washing, and self-stimulation). These behaviors are therefore very disruptive and make normal social discourse difficult. Treatment options for repetitive behaviors in OCD and ASDs are somewhat limited and there is great interest in developing more effective therapies for each condition. Numerous animal models for evaluating compulsive-like behaviors have been developed over the past three decades. Perhaps the animal models with the greatest validity and ease of use are the marble burying test and the nestlet shredding test. Both tests take advantage of the fact that the target behaviors occur spontaneously in mice. In the marble burying test, 20 marbles are arrayed on the surface of clean bedding. The number of marbles buried in a 30 min session is scored by investigators blind to the treatment or status of the subjects. In the nestlet shredding test, a nestlet comprised of pulped cotton fiber is preweighed and placed on top of cage bedding and the amount of the nestlet remaining intact after a 30 min test session is determined. Presently, we describe protocols for and show movie documentation of marble burying and nestlet shredding. Both tests are easily and accurately scored and each is sensitive to small changes in the expression of compulsive-like behaviors that result from genetic manipulations, disease, or head injury.
Behavior, Issue 82, compulsive-like behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), marble burying, nestlet shredding, TPH2 KO mice
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Sex Stratified Neuronal Cultures to Study Ischemic Cell Death Pathways
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Sex differences in neuronal susceptibility to ischemic injury and neurodegenerative disease have long been observed, but the signaling mechanisms responsible for those differences remain unclear. Primary disassociated embryonic neuronal culture provides a simplified experimental model with which to investigate the neuronal cell signaling involved in cell death as a result of ischemia or disease; however, most neuronal cultures used in research today are mixed sex. Researchers can and do test the effects of sex steroid treatment in mixed sex neuronal cultures in models of neuronal injury and disease, but accumulating evidence suggests that the female brain responds to androgens, estrogens, and progesterone differently than the male brain. Furthermore, neonate male and female rodents respond differently to ischemic injury, with males experiencing greater injury following cerebral ischemia than females. Thus, mixed sex neuronal cultures might obscure and confound the experimental results; important information might be missed. For this reason, the Herson Lab at the University of Colorado School of Medicine routinely prepares sex-stratified primary disassociated embryonic neuronal cultures from both hippocampus and cortex. Embryos are sexed before harvesting of brain tissue and male and female tissue are disassociated separately, plated separately, and maintained separately. Using this method, the Herson Lab has demonstrated a male-specific role for the ion channel TRPM2 in ischemic cell death. In this manuscript, we share and discuss our protocol for sexing embryonic mice and preparing sex-stratified hippocampal primary disassociated neuron cultures. This method can be adapted to prepare sex-stratified cortical cultures and the method for embryo sexing can be used in conjunction with other protocols for any study in which sex is thought to be an important determinant of outcome.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, male, female, sex, neuronal culture, ischemia, cell death, neuroprotection
Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+Itpr3tf
/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
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
Assessment of Morphine-induced Hyperalgesia and Analgesic Tolerance in Mice Using Thermal and Mechanical Nociceptive Modalities
Institutions: Université de Strasbourg.
Opioid-induced hyperalgesia and tolerance severely impact the clinical efficacy of opiates as pain relievers in animals and humans. The molecular mechanisms underlying both phenomena are not well understood and their elucidation should benefit from the study of animal models and from the design of appropriate experimental protocols.
We describe here a methodological approach for inducing, recording and quantifying morphine-induced hyperalgesia as well as for evidencing analgesic tolerance, using the tail-immersion and tail pressure tests in wild-type mice. As shown in the video, the protocol is divided into five sequential steps. Handling and habituation phases allow a safe determination of the basal nociceptive response of the animals. Chronic morphine administration induces significant hyperalgesia as shown by an increase in both thermal and mechanical sensitivity, whereas the comparison of analgesia time-courses after acute or repeated morphine treatment clearly indicates the development of tolerance manifested by a decline in analgesic response amplitude. This protocol may be similarly adapted to genetically modified mice in order to evaluate the role of individual genes in the modulation of nociception and morphine analgesia. It also provides a model system to investigate the effectiveness of potential therapeutic agents to improve opiate analgesic efficacy.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, mice, nociception, tail immersion test, tail pressure test, morphine, analgesia, opioid-induced hyperalgesia, tolerance
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
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
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Renal Capsule Xenografting and Subcutaneous Pellet Implantation for the Evaluation of Prostate Carcinogenesis and Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
New therapies for two common prostate diseases, prostate cancer (PrCa) and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), depend critically on experiments evaluating their hormonal regulation. Sex steroid hormones (notably androgens and estrogens) are important in PrCa and BPH; we probe their respective roles in inducing prostate growth and carcinogenesis in mice with experiments using compressed hormone pellets. Hormone and/or drug pellets are easily manufactured with a pellet press, and surgically implanted into the subcutaneous tissue of the male mouse host. We also describe a protocol for the evaluation of hormonal carcinogenesis by combining subcutaneous hormone pellet implantation with xenografting of prostate cell recombinants under the renal capsule of immunocompromised mice. Moreover, subcutaneous hormone pellet implantation, in combination with renal capsule xenografting of BPH tissue, is useful to better understand hormonal regulation of benign prostate growth, and to test new therapies targeting sex steroid hormone pathways.
Medicine, Issue 78, Cancer Biology, Prostatic Hyperplasia, Prostatic Neoplasms, Neoplastic Processes, Estradiol, Testosterone, Transplantation, Heterologous, Growth, Xenotransplantation, Heterologous Transplantation, Hormones, Prostate, Testosterone, 17beta-Estradiol, Benign prostatic hyperplasia, Prostate Cancer, animal model
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
Peering into the Dynamics of Social Interactions: Measuring Play Fighting in Rats
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content
of play following an experimental treatment.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Neurobiology, Behavior, Psychology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Play behavior, play, fighting, wrestling, grooming, allogrooming, social interaction, rat, behavioral analysis, animal model
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
TMS: Using the Theta-Burst Protocol to Explore Mechanism of Plasticity in Individuals with Fragile X Syndrome and Autism
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), also known as Martin-Bell Syndrome
, is a genetic abnormality found on the X chromosome.1,2
Individuals suffering from FXS display abnormalities in the expression of FMR1 - a protein required for typical, healthy neural development.3
Recent data has suggested that the loss of this protein can cause the cortex to be hyperexcitable thereby affecting overall patterns of neural plasticity.4,5
In addition, Fragile X shows a strong comorbidity with autism: in fact, 30% of children with FXS are diagnosed with autism, and 2 - 5% of autistic children suffer from FXS.6
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (a non-invasive neurostimulatory and neuromodulatory technique that can transiently or lastingly modulate cortical excitability via the application of localized magnetic field pulses 7,8
) represents a unique method of exploring plasticity and the manifestations of FXS within affected individuals. More specifically, Theta-Burst Stimulation (TBS), a specific stimulatory protocol shown to modulate cortical plasticity for a duration up to 30 minutes after stimulation cessation in healthy populations, has already proven an efficacious tool in the exploration of abnormal plasticity.9,10
Recent studies have shown the effects of TBS last considerably longer in individuals on the autistic spectrum - up to 90 minutes.11
This extended effect-duration suggests an underlying abnormality in the brain's natural plasticity state in autistic individuals - similar to the hyperexcitability induced by Fragile X Syndrome.
In this experiment, utilizing single-pulse motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) as our benchmark, we will explore the effects of both intermittent and continuous TBS on cortical plasticity in individuals suffering from FXS and individuals on the Autistic Spectrum.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Theta-Burst Stimulation, Neural Plasticity, Fragile X, Autism
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
Assessment of Social Interaction Behaviors
Institutions: Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Social interactions are a fundamental and adaptive component of the biology of numerous species. Social recognition is critical for the structure and stability of the networks and relationships that define societies. For animals, such as mice, recognition of conspecifics may be important for maintaining social hierarchy and for mate choice 1
A variety of neuropsychiatric disorders are characterized by disruptions in social behavior and social recognition, including depression, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and schizophrenia. Studies of humans as well as animal models (e.g., Drosophila melanogaster
, Caenorhabditis elegans
, Mus musculus
, Rattus norvegicus
) have identified genes involved in the regulation of social behavior 2
. To assess sociability in animal models, several behavioral tests have been developed (reviewed in 3
). Integrative research using animal models and appropriate tests for social behavior may lead to the development of improved treatments for social psychopathologies.
The three-chamber paradigm test known as Crawley's sociability and preference for social novelty protocol has been successfully employed to study social affiliation and social memory in several inbred and mutant mouse lines (e.g. 4-7
). The main principle of this test is based on the free choice by a subject mouse to spend time in any of three box's compartments during two experimental sessions, including indirect contact with one or two mice with which it is unfamiliar. To quantitate social tendencies of the experimental mouse, the main tasks are to measure a) the time spent with a novel conspecific and b) preference for a novel vs. a familiar conspecific. Thus, the experimental design of this test allows evaluation of two critical but distinguishable aspects of social behavior, such as social affiliation/motivation, as well as social memory and novelty. "Sociability" in this case is defined as propensity to spend time with another mouse, as compared to time spent alone in an identical but empty chamber 7
. "Preference for social novelty" is defined as propensity to spend time with a previously unencountered mouse rather than with a familiar mouse 7
. This test provides robust results, which then must be carefully analyzed, interpreted and supported/confirmed by alternative sociability tests. In addition to specific applications, Crawley's sociability test can be included as an important component of general behavioral screen of mutant mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Mice, behavioral test, phenotyping, social interaction
The Resident-intruder Paradigm: A Standardized Test for Aggression, Violence and Social Stress
Institutions: University Groningen, Radboud University Nijmegen.
This video publication explains in detail the experimental protocol of the resident-intruder paradigm in rats. This test is a standardized method to measure offensive aggression and defensive behavior in a semi natural setting. The most important behavioral elements performed by the resident and the intruder are demonstrated in the video and illustrated using artistic drawings. The use of the resident intruder paradigm for acute and chronic social stress experiments is explained as well. Finally, some brief tests and criteria are presented to distinguish aggression from its more violent and pathological forms.
Behavior, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Genetics, Basic Protocols, Psychology, offensive aggression, defensive behavior, aggressive behavior, pathological, violence, social stress, rat, Wistar rat, animal model
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
Probing the Brain in Autism Using fMRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Newly emerging theories suggest that the brain does not function as a cohesive unit in autism, and this discordance is reflected in the behavioral symptoms displayed by individuals with autism. While structural neuroimaging findings have provided some insights into brain abnormalities in autism, the consistency of such findings is questionable. Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, has been more fruitful in this regard because autism is a disorder of dynamic processing and allows examination of communication between cortical networks, which appears to be where the underlying problem occurs in autism. Functional connectivity is defined as the temporal correlation of spatially separate neurological events1. Findings from a number of recent fMRI studies have supported the idea that there is weaker coordination between different parts of the brain that should be working together to accomplish complex social or language problems2,3,4,5,6
. One of the mysteries of autism is the coexistence of deficits in several domains along with relatively intact, sometimes enhanced, abilities. Such complex manifestation of autism calls for a global and comprehensive examination of the disorder at the neural level. A compelling recent account of the brain functioning in autism, the cortical underconnectivity theory,2,7
provides an integrating framework for the neurobiological bases of autism. The cortical underconnectivity theory of autism suggests that any language, social, or psychological function that is dependent on the integration of multiple brain regions is susceptible to disruption as the processing demand increases. In autism, the underfunctioning of integrative circuitry in the brain may cause widespread underconnectivity. In other words, people with autism may interpret information in a piecemeal fashion at the expense of the whole. Since cortical underconnectivity among brain regions, especially the frontal cortex and more posterior areas 3,6
, has now been relatively well established, we can begin to further understand brain connectivity as a critical component of autism symptomatology.
A logical next step in this direction is to examine the anatomical connections that may mediate the functional connections mentioned above. Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a relatively novel neuroimaging technique that helps probe the diffusion of water in the brain to infer the integrity of white matter fibers. In this technique, water diffusion in the brain is examined in several directions using diffusion gradients. While functional connectivity provides information about the synchronization of brain activation across different brain areas during a task or during rest, DTI helps in understanding the underlying axonal organization which may facilitate the cross-talk among brain areas. This paper will describe these techniques as valuable tools in understanding the brain in autism and the challenges involved in this line of research.
Medicine, Issue 55, Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Functional Connectivity, Neuroscience, Developmental disorders, Autism, Fractional Anisotropy
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