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., vocabulary),5 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.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
Multi-step Preparation Technique to Recover Multiple Metabolite Compound Classes for In-depth and Informative Metabolomic Analysis
Institutions: National Jewish Health, University of Colorado Denver.
Metabolomics is an emerging field which enables profiling of samples from living organisms in order to obtain insight into biological processes. A vital aspect of metabolomics is sample preparation whereby inconsistent techniques generate unreliable results. This technique encompasses protein precipitation, liquid-liquid extraction, and solid-phase extraction as a means of fractionating metabolites into four distinct classes. Improved enrichment of low abundance molecules with a resulting increase in sensitivity is obtained, and ultimately results in more confident identification of molecules. This technique has been applied to plasma, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid, and cerebrospinal fluid samples with volumes as low as 50 µl. Samples can be used for multiple downstream applications; for example, the pellet resulting from protein precipitation can be stored for later analysis. The supernatant from that step undergoes liquid-liquid extraction using water and strong organic solvent to separate the hydrophilic and hydrophobic compounds. Once fractionated, the hydrophilic layer can be processed for later analysis or discarded if not needed. The hydrophobic fraction is further treated with a series of solvents during three solid-phase extraction steps to separate it into fatty acids, neutral lipids, and phospholipids. This allows the technician the flexibility to choose which class of compounds is preferred for analysis. It also aids in more reliable metabolite identification since some knowledge of chemical class exists.
Bioengineering, Issue 89, plasma, chemistry techniques, analytical, solid phase extraction, mass spectrometry, metabolomics, fluids and secretions, profiling, small molecules, lipids, liquid chromatography, liquid-liquid extraction, cerebrospinal fluid, bronchoalveolar lavage fluid
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
Surgical Management of Meatal Stenosis with Meatoplasty
Institutions: Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Meatal stenosis is a common urologic complication after circumcision. Children present to their primary care physicians with complaints of deviated urinary stream, difficult-to-aim, painful urination, and urinary frequency. Clinical exam reveals a pinpoint meatus and if the child is asked to urinate, he will usually have an upward, thin, occasionally forceful urinary stream with incomplete bladder emptying. The mainstay of management is meatoplasty (reconstruction of the distal urethra /meatus). This educational video will demonstrate how this is performed.
Medicine, Issue 45, Urinary obstruction, pediatric urology, deviated urinary stream, meatal stenosis, operative repair, meatotomy, meatoplasty
Nuclear Transfer into Mouse Oocytes
Nuclear transfer into an unfertilized oocyte can restore developmental potential to a differentiated cell. This demonstrates that the processes underlying development, differentiation and aging are epigenetic rather than genetic processes. The reversibility of these processes opens exciting perspectives in basic research, and in the more distant future, in regenerative medicine. In the mouse, embryonic stem cells can be derived from cloned preimplantation stage embryos. Such embryonic stem cells have the ability to give rise to all cell types of the adult organism. Importantly, these cells are genetically identical to the donor. If applicable to human, this would allow the derivation of stem cells from a patient. These cells could then be differentiated into the affected cell type of the patient and studied in vitro, or used to replace the damaged or missing cells. The study of nuclear transfer in the mouse remains important as it can inform us about the principles of nuclear reprogramming. This movie and the accompanying protocol are intended to help learning nuclear transfer in the mouse, a method initially developed in the group of Prof. Yanagimachi (WAKAYAMA et al. 1998).
Developmental Biology, Issue 1, oocytes, nuclear transfer, stem cells
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
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
Bladder Smooth Muscle Strip Contractility as a Method to Evaluate Lower Urinary Tract Pharmacology
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
We describe an in vitro
method to measure bladder smooth muscle contractility, and its use for investigating physiological and pharmacological properties of the smooth muscle as well as changes induced by pathology. This method provides critical information for understanding bladder function while overcoming major methodological difficulties encountered in in vivo
experiments, such as surgical and pharmacological manipulations that affect stability and survival of the preparations, the use of human tissue, and/or the use of expensive chemicals. It also provides a way to investigate the properties of each bladder component (i.e.
smooth muscle, mucosa, nerves) in healthy and pathological conditions.
The urinary bladder is removed from an anesthetized animal, placed in Krebs solution and cut into strips. Strips are placed into a chamber filled with warm Krebs solution. One end is attached to an isometric tension transducer to measure contraction force, the other end is attached to a fixed rod. Tissue is stimulated by directly adding compounds to the bath or by electric field stimulation electrodes that activate nerves, similar to triggering bladder contractions in vivo
. We demonstrate the use of this method to evaluate spontaneous smooth muscle contractility during development and after an experimental spinal cord injury, the nature of neurotransmission (transmitters and receptors involved), factors involved in modulation of smooth muscle activity, the role of individual bladder components, and species and organ differences in response to pharmacological agents. Additionally, it could be used for investigating intracellular pathways involved in contraction and/or relaxation of the smooth muscle, drug structure-activity relationships and evaluation of transmitter release.
The in vitro
smooth muscle contractility method has been used extensively for over 50 years, and has provided data that significantly contributed to our understanding of bladder function as well as to pharmaceutical development of compounds currently used clinically for bladder management.
Medicine, Issue 90, Krebs, species differences, in vitro, smooth muscle contractility, neural stimulation
Quantitative Assessment of Cortical Auditory-tactile Processing in Children with Disabilities
Institutions: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University.
Objective and easy measurement of sensory processing is extremely difficult in nonverbal or vulnerable pediatric patients. We developed a new methodology to quantitatively assess children's cortical processing of light touch, speech sounds and the multisensory processing of the 2 stimuli, without requiring active subject participation or causing children discomfort. To accomplish this we developed a dual channel, time and strength calibrated air puff stimulator that allows both tactile stimulation and sham control. We combined this with the use of event-related potential methodology to allow for high temporal resolution of signals from the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices as well as higher order processing. This methodology also allowed us to measure a multisensory response to auditory-tactile stimulation.
Behavior, Issue 83, somatosensory, event related potential, auditory-tactile, multisensory, cortical response, child
Conducting Miller-Urey Experiments
Institutions: Georgia Institute of Technology, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Institute for Advanced Study, NASA Johnson Space Center, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, University of California at San Diego.
In 1953, Stanley Miller reported the production of biomolecules from simple gaseous starting materials, using an apparatus constructed to simulate the primordial Earth's atmosphere-ocean system. Miller introduced 200 ml of water, 100 mmHg of H2
, 200 mmHg of CH4
, and 200 mmHg of NH3
into the apparatus, then subjected this mixture, under reflux, to an electric discharge for a week, while the water was simultaneously heated. The purpose of this manuscript is to provide the reader with a general experimental protocol that can be used to conduct a Miller-Urey type spark discharge experiment, using a simplified 3 L reaction flask. Since the experiment involves exposing inflammable gases to a high voltage electric discharge, it is worth highlighting important steps that reduce the risk of explosion. The general procedures described in this work can be extrapolated to design and conduct a wide variety of electric discharge experiments simulating primitive planetary environments.
Chemistry, Issue 83, Geosciences (General), Exobiology, Miller-Urey, Prebiotic chemistry, amino acids, spark discharge
High-throughput Flow Cytometry Cell-based Assay to Detect Antibodies to N-Methyl-D-aspartate Receptor or Dopamine-2 Receptor in Human Serum
Institutions: The University of Sydney, Westmead Millennium Institute for Medical Research.
Over the recent years, antibodies against surface and conformational proteins involved in neurotransmission have been detected in autoimmune CNS diseases in children and adults. These antibodies have been used to guide diagnosis and treatment. Cell-based assays have improved the detection of antibodies in patient serum. They are based on the surface expression of brain antigens on eukaryotic cells, which are then incubated with diluted patient sera followed by fluorochrome-conjugated secondary antibodies. After washing, secondary antibody binding is then analyzed by flow cytometry. Our group has developed a high-throughput flow cytometry live cell-based assay to reliably detect antibodies against specific neurotransmitter receptors. This flow cytometry method is straight forward, quantitative, efficient, and the use of a high-throughput sampler system allows for large patient cohorts to be easily assayed in a short space of time. Additionally, this cell-based assay can be easily adapted to detect antibodies to many different antigenic targets, both from the central nervous system and periphery. Discovering additional novel antibody biomarkers will enable prompt and accurate diagnosis and improve treatment of immune-mediated disorders.
Medicine, Issue 81, Flow cytometry, cell-based assay, autoantibody, high-throughput sampler, autoimmune CNS disease
Compact Quantum Dots for Single-molecule Imaging
Institutions: Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology .
Single-molecule imaging is an important tool for understanding the mechanisms of biomolecular function and for visualizing the spatial and temporal heterogeneity of molecular behaviors that underlie cellular biology 1-4
. To image an individual molecule of interest, it is typically conjugated to a fluorescent tag (dye, protein, bead, or quantum dot) and observed with epifluorescence or total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscopy. While dyes and fluorescent proteins have been the mainstay of fluorescence imaging for decades, their fluorescence is unstable under high photon fluxes necessary to observe individual molecules, yielding only a few seconds of observation before complete loss of signal. Latex beads and dye-labeled beads provide improved signal stability but at the expense of drastically larger hydrodynamic size, which can deleteriously alter the diffusion and behavior of the molecule under study.
Quantum dots (QDs) offer a balance between these two problematic regimes. These nanoparticles are composed of semiconductor materials and can be engineered with a hydrodynamically compact size with exceptional resistance to photodegradation 5
. Thus in recent years QDs have been instrumental in enabling long-term observation of complex macromolecular behavior on the single molecule level. However these particles have still been found to exhibit impaired diffusion in crowded molecular environments such as the cellular cytoplasm and the neuronal synaptic cleft, where their sizes are still too large 4,6,7
Recently we have engineered the cores and surface coatings of QDs for minimized hydrodynamic size, while balancing offsets to colloidal stability, photostability, brightness, and nonspecific binding that have hindered the utility of compact QDs in the past 8,9
. The goal of this article is to demonstrate the synthesis, modification, and characterization of these optimized nanocrystals, composed of an alloyed Hgx
Se core coated with an insulating Cdy
S shell, further coated with a multidentate polymer ligand modified with short polyethylene glycol (PEG) chains (Figure 1
). Compared with conventional CdSe nanocrystals, Hgx
Se alloys offer greater quantum yields of fluorescence, fluorescence at red and near-infrared wavelengths for enhanced signal-to-noise in cells, and excitation at non-cytotoxic visible wavelengths. Multidentate polymer coatings bind to the nanocrystal surface in a closed and flat conformation to minimize hydrodynamic size, and PEG neutralizes the surface charge to minimize nonspecific binding to cells and biomolecules. The end result is a brightly fluorescent nanocrystal with emission between 550-800 nm and a total hydrodynamic size near 12 nm. This is in the same size range as many soluble globular proteins in cells, and substantially smaller than conventional PEGylated QDs (25-35 nm).
Physics, Issue 68, Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Nanotechnology, Nanoparticle, nanocrystal, synthesis, fluorescence, microscopy, imaging, conjugation, dynamics, intracellular, receptor
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
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
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
Measuring Attentional Biases for Threat in Children and Adults
Institutions: Rutgers University.
Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g.,
snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g.,
flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
Behavior, Issue 92, Detection, threat, attention, attentional bias, anxiety, visual search
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
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
Simultaneous Multicolor Imaging of Biological Structures with Fluorescence Photoactivation Localization Microscopy
Institutions: University of Maine.
Localization-based super resolution microscopy can be applied to obtain a spatial map (image) of the distribution of individual fluorescently labeled single molecules within a sample with a spatial resolution of tens of nanometers. Using either photoactivatable (PAFP) or photoswitchable (PSFP) fluorescent proteins fused to proteins of interest, or organic dyes conjugated to antibodies or other molecules of interest, fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) can simultaneously image multiple species of molecules within single cells. By using the following approach, populations of large numbers (thousands to hundreds of thousands) of individual molecules are imaged in single cells and localized with a precision of ~10-30 nm. Data obtained can be applied to understanding the nanoscale spatial distributions of multiple protein types within a cell. One primary advantage of this technique is the dramatic increase in spatial resolution: while diffraction limits resolution to ~200-250 nm in conventional light microscopy, FPALM can image length scales more than an order of magnitude smaller. As many biological hypotheses concern the spatial relationships among different biomolecules, the improved resolution of FPALM can provide insight into questions of cellular organization which have previously been inaccessible to conventional fluorescence microscopy. In addition to detailing the methods for sample preparation and data acquisition, we here describe the optical setup for FPALM. One additional consideration for researchers wishing to do super-resolution microscopy is cost: in-house setups are significantly cheaper than most commercially available imaging machines. Limitations of this technique include the need for optimizing the labeling of molecules of interest within cell samples, and the need for post-processing software to visualize results. We here describe the use of PAFP and PSFP expression to image two protein species in fixed cells. Extension of the technique to living cells is also described.
Basic Protocol, Issue 82, Microscopy, Super-resolution imaging, Multicolor, single molecule, FPALM, Localization microscopy, fluorescent proteins
Preparation of Segmented Microtubules to Study Motions Driven by the Disassembling Microtubule Ends
Institutions: Russian Academy of Sciences, Federal Research Center of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology and Immunology, Moscow, Russia, University of Pennsylvania.
Microtubule depolymerization can provide force to transport different protein complexes and protein-coated beads in vitro
. The underlying mechanisms are thought to play a vital role in the microtubule-dependent chromosome motions during cell division, but the relevant proteins and their exact roles are ill-defined. Thus, there is a growing need to develop assays with which to study such motility in vitro
using purified components and defined biochemical milieu. Microtubules, however, are inherently unstable polymers; their switching between growth and shortening is stochastic and difficult to control. The protocols we describe here take advantage of the segmented microtubules that are made with the photoablatable stabilizing caps. Depolymerization of such segmented microtubules can be triggered with high temporal and spatial resolution, thereby assisting studies of motility at the disassembling microtubule ends. This technique can be used to carry out a quantitative analysis of the number of molecules in the fluorescently-labeled protein complexes, which move processively with dynamic microtubule ends. To optimize a signal-to-noise ratio in this and other quantitative fluorescent assays, coverslips should be treated to reduce nonspecific absorption of soluble fluorescently-labeled proteins. Detailed protocols are provided to take into account the unevenness of fluorescent illumination, and determine the intensity of a single fluorophore using equidistant Gaussian fit. Finally, we describe the use of segmented microtubules to study microtubule-dependent motions of the protein-coated microbeads, providing insights into the ability of different motor and nonmotor proteins to couple microtubule depolymerization to processive cargo motion.
Basic Protocol, Issue 85, microscopy flow chamber, single-molecule fluorescence, laser trap, microtubule-binding protein, microtubule-dependent motor, microtubule tip-tracking
Single-Molecule Imaging of Nuclear Transport
Institutions: Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green State University.
The utility of single molecule fluorescence microscopy approaches has been proven to be of a great avail in understanding biological reactions over the last decade. The investigation of molecular interactions with high temporal and spatial resolutions deep within cells has remained challenging due to the inherently weak signals arising from individual molecules. Recent works by Yang et al. demonstrated that narrow-field epifluorescence microscopy allows visualization of nucleocytoplasmic transport at the single molecule level. By the single molecule approach, important kinetics, such as nuclear transport time and efficiency, for signal-dependent and independent cargo molecules have been obtained. Here we described a protocol for the methodological approach with an improved spatiotemporal resolution of 0.4 ms and 12 nm. The improved resolution enabled us to capture transient active transport and passive diffusion events through the nuclear pore complexes (NPC) in semi-intact cells. We expect this method to be used in elucidating other binding and trafficking events within cells.
Cellular Biology, Issue 40, Single molecule fluorescence, Nuclear transport, Particle tracking, Narrow-field epifluorescence microscopy, Cell imaging
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