The acoustic startle response is a protective response, elicited by a sudden and intense acoustic stimulus. Facial and skeletal muscles are activated within a few milliseconds, leading to a whole body flinch in rodents1. Although startle responses are reflexive responses that can be reliably elicited, they are not stereotypic. They can be modulated by emotions such as fear (fear potentiated startle) and joy (joy attenuated startle), by non-associative learning processes such as habituation and sensitization, and by other sensory stimuli through sensory gating processes (prepulse inhibition), turning startle responses into an excellent tool for assessing emotions, learning, and sensory gating, for review see 2, 3. The primary pathway mediating startle responses is very short and well described, qualifying startle also as an excellent model for studying the underlying mechanisms for behavioural plasticity on a cellular/molecular level3.
We here describe a method for assessing short-term habituation, long-term habituation and prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle responses in rodents. Habituation describes the decrease of the startle response magnitude upon repeated presentation of the same stimulus. Habituation within a testing session is called short-term habituation (STH) and is reversible upon a period of several minutes without stimulation. Habituation between testing sessions is called long-term habituation (LTH)4. Habituation is stimulus specific5. Prepulse inhibition is the attenuation of a startle response by a preceding non-startling sensory stimulus6. The interval between prepulse and startle stimulus can vary from 6 to up to 2000 ms. The prepulse can be any modality, however, acoustic prepulses are the most commonly used.
Habituation is a form of non-associative learning. It can also be viewed as a form of sensory filtering, since it reduces the organisms' response to a non-threatening stimulus. Prepulse inhibition (PPI) was originally developed in human neuropsychiatric research as an operational measure for sensory gating7. PPI deficits may represent the interface of "psychosis and cognition" as they seem to predict cognitive impairment8-10. Both habituation and PPI are disrupted in patients suffering from schizophrenia11, and PPI disruptions have shown to be, at least in some cases, amenable to treatment with mostly atypical antipsychotics12, 13. However, other mental and neurodegenerative diseases are also accompanied by disruption in habituation and/or PPI, such as autism spectrum disorders (slower habituation), obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's Disease (PPI)11, 14, 15 Dopamine induced PPI deficits are a commonly used animal model for the screening of antipsychotic drugs16, but PPI deficits can also be induced by many other psychomimetic drugs, environmental modifications and surgical procedures.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Stimulating the Lip Motor Cortex with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
Institutions: University of Oxford.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has proven to be a useful tool in investigating the role of the articulatory motor cortex in speech perception. Researchers have used single-pulse and repetitive TMS to stimulate the lip representation in the motor cortex. The excitability of the lip motor representation can be investigated by applying single TMS pulses over this cortical area and recording TMS-induced motor evoked potentials (MEPs) via electrodes attached to the lip muscles (electromyography; EMG). Larger MEPs reflect increased cortical excitability. Studies have shown that excitability increases during listening to speech as well as during viewing speech-related movements. TMS can be used also to disrupt the lip motor representation. A 15-min train of low-frequency sub-threshold repetitive stimulation has been shown to suppress motor excitability for a further 15-20 min. This TMS-induced disruption of the motor lip representation impairs subsequent performance in demanding speech perception tasks and modulates auditory-cortex responses to speech sounds. These findings are consistent with the suggestion that the motor cortex contributes to speech perception. This article describes how to localize the lip representation in the motor cortex and how to define the appropriate stimulation intensity for carrying out both single-pulse and repetitive TMS experiments.
Behavior, Issue 88, electromyography, motor cortex, motor evoked potential, motor excitability, speech, repetitive TMS, rTMS, virtual lesion, transcranial magnetic stimulation
Making Sense of Listening: The IMAP Test Battery
Institutions: MRC Institute of Hearing Research, National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing.
The ability to hear is only the first step towards making sense of the range of information contained in an auditory signal. Of equal importance are the abilities to extract and use the information encoded in the auditory signal. We refer to these as listening skills (or auditory processing AP). Deficits in these skills are associated with delayed language and literacy development, though the nature of the relevant deficits and their causal connection with these delays is hotly debated.
When a child is referred to a health professional with normal hearing and unexplained difficulties in listening, or associated delays in language or literacy development, they should ideally be assessed with a combination of psychoacoustic (AP) tests, suitable for children and for use in a clinic, together with cognitive tests to measure attention, working memory, IQ, and language skills. Such a detailed examination needs to be relatively short and within the technical capability of any suitably qualified professional. Current tests for the presence of AP deficits tend to be poorly constructed and inadequately validated within the normal population. They have little or no reference to the presenting symptoms of the child, and typically include a linguistic component. Poor performance may thus reflect problems with language rather than with AP. To assist in the assessment of children with listening difficulties, pediatric audiologists need a single, standardized child-appropriate test battery based on the use of language-free stimuli.
We present the IMAP test battery which was developed at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to supplement tests currently used to investigate cases of suspected AP deficits. IMAP assesses a range of relevant auditory and cognitive skills and takes about one hour to complete. It has been standardized in 1500 normally-hearing children from across the UK, aged 6-11 years. Since its development, it has been successfully used in a number of large scale studies both in the UK and the USA. IMAP provides measures for separating out sensory from cognitive contributions to hearing. It further limits confounds due to procedural effects by presenting tests in a child-friendly game-format. Stimulus-generation, management of test protocols and control of test presentation is mediated by the IHR-STAR software platform. This provides a standardized methodology for a range of applications and ensures replicable procedures across testers. IHR-STAR provides a flexible, user-programmable environment that currently has additional applications for hearing screening, mapping cochlear implant electrodes, and academic research or teaching.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Listening skills, auditory processing, auditory psychophysics, clinical assessment, child-friendly testing
Extracellularly Identifying Motor Neurons for a Muscle Motor Pool in Aplysia californica
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University , Case Western Reserve University .
In animals with large identified neurons (e.g.
mollusks), analysis of motor pools is done using intracellular techniques1,2,3,4
. Recently, we developed a technique to extracellularly stimulate and record individual neurons in Aplysia californica5
. We now describe a protocol for using this technique to uniquely identify and characterize motor neurons within a motor pool.
This extracellular technique has advantages. First, extracellular electrodes can stimulate and record neurons through the sheath5
, so it does not need to be removed. Thus, neurons will be healthier in extracellular experiments than in intracellular ones. Second, if ganglia are rotated by appropriate pinning of the sheath, extracellular electrodes can access neurons on both sides of the ganglion, which makes it easier and more efficient to identify multiple neurons in the same preparation. Third, extracellular electrodes do not need to penetrate cells, and thus can be easily moved back and forth among neurons, causing less damage to them. This is especially useful when one tries to record multiple neurons during repeating motor patterns that may only persist for minutes. Fourth, extracellular electrodes are more flexible than intracellular ones during muscle movements. Intracellular electrodes may pull out and damage neurons during muscle contractions. In contrast, since extracellular electrodes are gently pressed onto the sheath above neurons, they usually stay above the same neuron during muscle contractions, and thus can be used in more intact preparations.
To uniquely identify motor neurons for a motor pool (in particular, the I1/I3 muscle in Aplysia
) using extracellular electrodes, one can use features that do not require intracellular measurements as criteria: soma size and location, axonal projection, and muscle innervation4,6,7
. For the particular motor pool used to illustrate the technique, we recorded from buccal nerves 2 and 3 to measure axonal projections, and measured the contraction forces of the I1/I3 muscle to determine the pattern of muscle innervation for the individual motor neurons.
We demonstrate the complete process of first identifying motor neurons using muscle innervation, then characterizing their timing during motor patterns, creating a simplified diagnostic method for rapid identification. The simplified and more rapid diagnostic method is superior for more intact preparations, e.g.
in the suspended buccal mass preparation8
or in vivo9
. This process can also be applied in other motor pools10,11,12
or in other animal systems2,3,13,14
Neuroscience, Issue 73, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Behavior, Neurobiology, Animal, Neurosciences, Neurophysiology, Electrophysiology, Aplysia, Aplysia californica, California sea slug, invertebrate, feeding, buccal mass, ganglia, motor neurons, neurons, extracellular stimulation and recordings, extracellular electrodes, animal model
Integrating a Triplet-triplet Annihilation Up-conversion System to Enhance Dye-sensitized Solar Cell Response to Sub-bandgap Light
Institutions: The University of Wollongong, The University of Sydney, The University of New South Wales.
The poor response of dye-sensitized solar cells (DSCs) to red and infrared light is a significant impediment to the realization of higher photocurrents and hence higher efficiencies. Photon up-conversion by way of triplet-triplet annihilation (TTA-UC) is an attractive technique for using these otherwise wasted low energy photons to produce photocurrent, while not interfering with the photoanodic performance in a deleterious manner. Further to this, TTA-UC has a number of features, distinct from other reported photon up-conversion technologies, which renders it particularly suitable for coupling with DSC technology. In this work, a proven high performance TTA-UC system, comprising a palladium porphyrin sensitizer and rubrene emitter, is combined with a high performance DSC (utilizing the organic dye D149) in an integrated device. The device shows an enhanced response to sub-bandgap light over the absorption range of the TTA-UC sub-unit resulting in the highest figure of merit for up-conversion assisted DSC performance to date.
Physics, Issue 91, Third generation photovoltaics, upconversion, organic electronics, device architecture, porphyrins, photovoltaic testing
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
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
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
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Targeted Training of Ultrasonic Vocalizations in Aged and Parkinsonian Rats
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin.
Voice deficits are a common complication of both Parkinson disease (PD) and aging; they can significantly diminish quality of life by impacting communication abilities. 1, 2
Targeted training (speech/voice therapy) can improve specific voice deficits,3, 4
although the underlying mechanisms of behavioral interventions are not well understood. Systematic investigation of voice deficits and therapy should consider many factors that are difficult to control in humans, such as age, home environment, age post-onset of disease, severity of disease, and medications. The method presented here uses an animal model of vocalization that allows for systematic study of how underlying sensorimotor mechanisms change with targeted voice training. The ultrasonic recording and analysis procedures outlined in this protocol are applicable to any investigation of rodent ultrasonic vocalizations.
The ultrasonic vocalizations of rodents are emerging as a valuable model to investigate the neural substrates of behavior.5-8
Both rodent and human vocalizations carry semiotic value and are produced by modifying an egressive airflow with a laryngeal constriction.9, 10
Thus, rodent vocalizations may be a useful model to study voice deficits in a sensorimotor context. Further, rat models allow us to study the neurobiological underpinnings of recovery from deficits with targeted training.
To model PD we use Long-Evans rats (Charles River Laboratories International, Inc.) and induce parkinsonism by a unilateral infusion of 7 μg of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) into the medial forebrain bundle which causes moderate to severe degeneration of presynaptic striatal neurons (for details see Ciucci, 2010).11, 12
For our aging model we use the Fischer 344/Brown Norway F1 (National Institute on Aging).
Our primary method for eliciting vocalizations is to expose sexually-experienced male rats to sexually receptive female rats. When the male becomes interested in the female, the female is removed and the male continues to vocalize. By rewarding complex vocalizations with food or water, both the number of complex vocalizations and the rate of vocalizations can be increased (Figure 1).
An ultrasonic microphone mounted above the male's home cage records the vocalizations. Recording begins after the female rat is removed to isolate the male calls. Vocalizations can be viewed in real time for training or recorded and analyzed offline. By recording and acoustically analyzing vocalizations before and after vocal training, the effects of disease and restoration of normal function with training can be assessed. This model also allows us to relate the observed behavioral (vocal) improvements to changes in the brain and neuromuscular system.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, ultrasonic vocalization, rat, aging, Parkinson disease, exercise, 6-hydroxydopamine, voice disorders, voice therapy
Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at http://www.mouse-phenotype.org/. Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
Trace Fear Conditioning in Mice
Institutions: Baylor University, Baylor University.
In this experiment we present a technique to measure learning and memory. In the trace fear conditioning protocol presented here there are five pairings between a neutral stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus. There is a 20 sec trace period that separates each conditioning trial. On the following day freezing is measured during presentation of the conditioned stimulus (CS) and trace period. On the third day there is an 8 min test to measure contextual memory. The representative results are from mice that were presented with the aversive unconditioned stimulus (shock) compared to mice that received the tone presentations without the unconditioned stimulus. Trace fear conditioning has been successfully used to detect subtle learning and memory deficits and enhancements in mice that are not found with other fear conditioning methods. This type of fear conditioning is believed to be dependent upon connections between the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. One current controversy is whether this method is believed to be amygdala-independent. Therefore, other fear conditioning testing is needed to examine amygdala-dependent learning and memory effects, such as through the delay fear conditioning.
Behavior, Issue 85, fear conditioning, learning, trace conditioning, memory, conditioned and unconditioned stimulus, neutral stimulus, amygdala-dependent learning
Behavioral Determination of Stimulus Pair Discrimination of Auditory Acoustic and Electrical Stimuli Using a Classical Conditioning and Heart-rate Approach
Institutions: La Trobe University.
Acute animal preparations have been used in research prospectively investigating electrode designs and stimulation techniques for integration into neural auditory prostheses, such as auditory brainstem implants1-3
and auditory midbrain implants4,5
. While acute experiments can give initial insight to the effectiveness of the implant, testing the chronically implanted and awake animals provides the advantage of examining the psychophysical properties of the sensations induced using implanted devices6,7
Several techniques such as reward-based operant conditioning6-8
, conditioned avoidance9-11
, or classical fear conditioning12
have been used to provide behavioral confirmation of detection of a relevant stimulus attribute. Selection of a technique involves balancing aspects including time efficiency (often poor in reward-based approaches), the ability to test a plurality of stimulus attributes simultaneously (limited in conditioned avoidance), and measure reliability of repeated stimuli (a potential constraint when physiological measures are employed).
Here, a classical fear conditioning behavioral method is presented which may be used to simultaneously test both detection of a stimulus, and discrimination between two stimuli. Heart-rate is used as a measure of fear response, which reduces or eliminates the requirement for time-consuming video coding for freeze behaviour or other such measures (although such measures could be included to provide convergent evidence). Animals were conditioned using these techniques in three 2-hour conditioning sessions, each providing 48 stimulus trials. Subsequent 48-trial testing sessions were then used to test for detection of each stimulus in presented pairs, and test discrimination between the member stimuli of each pair.
This behavioral method is presented in the context of its utilisation in auditory prosthetic research. The implantation of electrocardiogram telemetry devices is shown. Subsequent implantation of brain electrodes into the Cochlear Nucleus, guided by the monitoring of neural responses to acoustic stimuli, and the fixation of the electrode into place for chronic use is likewise shown.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, Physiology, auditory, hearing, brainstem, stimulation, rat, abi
Polycrystalline Silicon Thin-film Solar cells with Plasmonic-enhanced Light-trapping
Institutions: University of New South Wales .
One of major approaches to cheaper solar cells is reducing the amount of semiconductor material used for their fabrication and making cells thinner. To compensate for lower light absorption such physically thin devices have to incorporate light-trapping which increases their optical thickness. Light scattering by textured surfaces is a common technique but it cannot be universally applied to all solar cell technologies. Some cells, for example those made of evaporated silicon, are planar as produced and they require an alternative light-trapping means suitable for planar devices. Metal nanoparticles formed on planar silicon cell surface and capable of light scattering due to surface plasmon resonance is an effective approach.
The paper presents a fabrication procedure of evaporated polycrystalline silicon solar cells with plasmonic light-trapping and demonstrates how the cell quantum efficiency improves due to presence of metal nanoparticles.
To fabricate the cells a film consisting of alternative boron and phosphorous doped silicon layers is deposited on glass substrate by electron beam evaporation. An Initially amorphous film is crystallised and electronic defects are mitigated by annealing and hydrogen passivation. Metal grid contacts are applied to the layers of opposite polarity to extract electricity generated by the cell. Typically, such a ~2 μm thick cell has a short-circuit current density (Jsc
) of 14-16 mA/cm2
, which can be increased up to 17-18 mA/cm2
(~25% higher) after application of a simple diffuse back reflector made of a white paint.
To implement plasmonic light-trapping a silver nanoparticle array is formed on the metallised cell silicon surface. A precursor silver film is deposited on the cell by thermal evaporation and annealed at 23°C to form silver nanoparticles. Nanoparticle size and coverage, which affect plasmonic light-scattering, can be tuned for enhanced cell performance by varying the precursor film thickness and its annealing conditions. An optimised nanoparticle array alone results in cell Jsc
enhancement of about 28%, similar to the effect of the diffuse reflector. The photocurrent can be further increased by coating the nanoparticles by a low refractive index dielectric, like MgF2
, and applying the diffused reflector. The complete plasmonic cell structure comprises the polycrystalline silicon film, a silver nanoparticle array, a layer of MgF2
, and a diffuse reflector. The Jsc
for such cell is 21-23 mA/cm2
, up to 45% higher than Jsc
of the original cell without light-trapping or ~25% higher than Jsc
for the cell with the diffuse reflector only.
Light-trapping in silicon solar cells is commonly achieved via light scattering at textured interfaces. Scattered light travels through a cell at oblique angles for a longer distance and when such angles exceed the critical angle at the cell interfaces the light is permanently trapped in the cell by total internal reflection (Animation 1: Light-trapping)
. Although this scheme works well for most solar cells, there are developing technologies where ultra-thin Si layers are produced planar (e.g. layer-transfer technologies and epitaxial c-Si layers) 1
and or when such layers are not compatible with textures substrates (e.g. evaporated silicon) 2
. For such originally planar Si layer alternative light trapping approaches, such as diffuse white paint reflector 3
, silicon plasma texturing 4
or high refractive index nanoparticle reflector 5
have been suggested.
Metal nanoparticles can effectively scatter incident light into a higher refractive index material, like silicon, due to the surface plasmon resonance effect 6
. They also can be easily formed on the planar silicon cell surface thus offering a light-trapping approach alternative to texturing. For a nanoparticle located at the air-silicon interface the scattered light fraction coupled into silicon exceeds 95% and a large faction of that light is scattered at angles above critical providing nearly ideal light-trapping condition (Animation 2: Plasmons on NP)
. The resonance can be tuned to the wavelength region, which is most important for a particular cell material and design, by varying the nanoparticle average size, surface coverage and local dielectric environment 6,7
. Theoretical design principles of plasmonic nanoparticle solar cells have been suggested 8
. In practice, Ag nanoparticle array is an ideal light-trapping partner for poly-Si thin-film solar cells because most of these design principle are naturally met. The simplest way of forming nanoparticles by thermal annealing of a thin precursor Ag film results in a random array with a relatively wide size and shape distribution, which is particularly suitable for light-trapping because such an array has a wide resonance peak, covering the wavelength range of 700-900 nm, important for poly-Si solar cell performance. The nanoparticle array can only be located on the rear poly-Si cell surface thus avoiding destructive interference between incident and scattered light which occurs for front-located nanoparticles 9
. Moreover, poly-Si thin-film cells do not requires a passivating layer and the flat base-shaped nanoparticles (that naturally result from thermal annealing of a metal film) can be directly placed on silicon further increases plasmonic scattering efficiency due to surface plasmon-polariton resonance 10
The cell with the plasmonic nanoparticle array as described above can have a photocurrent about 28% higher than the original cell. However, the array still transmits a significant amount of light which escapes through the rear of the cell and does not contribute into the current. This loss can be mitigated by adding a rear reflector to allow catching transmitted light and re-directing it back to the cell. Providing sufficient distance between the reflector and the nanoparticles (a few hundred nanometers) the reflected light will then experience one more plasmonic scattering event while passing through the nanoparticle array on re-entering the cell and the reflector itself can be made diffuse - both effects further facilitating light scattering and hence light-trapping. Importantly, the Ag nanoparticles have to be encapsulated with an inert and low refractive index dielectric, like MgF2
, from the rear reflector to avoid mechanical and chemical damage 7
. Low refractive index for this cladding layer is required to maintain a high coupling fraction into silicon and larger scattering angles, which are ensured by the high optical contrast between the media on both sides of the nanoparticle, silicon and dielectric 6
. The photocurrent of the plasmonic cell with the diffuse rear reflector can be up to 45% higher than the current of the original cell or up to 25% higher than the current of an equivalent cell with the diffuse reflector only.
Physics, Issue 65, Materials Science, Photovoltaics, Silicon thin-film solar cells, light-trapping, metal nanoparticles, surface plasmons
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
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
A Method for Systematic Electrochemical and Electrophysiological Evaluation of Neural Recording Electrodes
Institutions: La Trobe University, University of Wollongong, ARC Centre of Excellence for Electromaterials Science, RMIT University.
New materials and designs for neural implants are typically tested separately, with a demonstration of performance but without reference to other implant characteristics. This precludes a rational selection of a particular implant as optimal for a particular application and the development of new materials based on the most critical performance parameters. This article develops a protocol for in vitro
and in vivo
testing of neural recording electrodes. Recommended parameters for electrochemical and electrophysiological testing are documented with the key steps and potential issues discussed. This method eliminates or reduces the impact of many systematic errors present in simpler in vivo
testing paradigms, especially variations in electrode/neuron distance and between animal models. The result is a strong correlation between the critical in vitro
and in vivo
responses, such as impedance and signal-to-noise ratio. This protocol can easily be adapted to test other electrode materials and designs. The in vitro
techniques can be expanded to any other nondestructive method to determine further important performance indicators. The principles used for the surgical approach in the auditory pathway can also be modified to other neural regions or tissue.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, Electrochemistry, Electrophysiology, Neural Recording, Neural Implant, Electrode Coating, Bionics
Functional Imaging of Auditory Cortex in Adult Cats using High-field fMRI
Institutions: University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario, University of Western Ontario.
Current knowledge of sensory processing in the mammalian auditory system is mainly derived from electrophysiological studies in a variety of animal models, including monkeys, ferrets, bats, rodents, and cats. In order to draw suitable parallels between human and animal models of auditory function, it is important to establish a bridge between human functional imaging studies and animal electrophysiological studies. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is an established, minimally invasive method of measuring broad patterns of hemodynamic activity across different regions of the cerebral cortex. This technique is widely used to probe sensory function in the human brain, is a useful tool in linking studies of auditory processing in both humans and animals and has been successfully used to investigate auditory function in monkeys and rodents. The following protocol describes an experimental procedure for investigating auditory function in anesthetized adult cats by measuring stimulus-evoked hemodynamic changes in auditory cortex using fMRI. This method facilitates comparison of the hemodynamic responses across different models of auditory function thus leading to a better understanding of species-independent features of the mammalian auditory cortex.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Central Nervous System, Ear, Animal Experimentation, Models, Animal, Functional Neuroimaging, Brain Mapping, Nervous System, Sense Organs, auditory cortex, BOLD signal change, hemodynamic response, hearing, acoustic stimuli
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
Inducing Plasticity of Astrocytic Receptors by Manipulation of Neuronal Firing Rates
Institutions: University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside, University of California Riverside.
Close to two decades of research has established that astrocytes in situ
and in vivo
express numerous G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) that can be stimulated by neuronally-released transmitter. However, the ability of astrocytic receptors to exhibit plasticity in response to changes in neuronal activity has received little attention. Here we describe a model system that can be used to globally scale up or down astrocytic group I metabotropic glutamate receptors (mGluRs) in acute brain slices. Included are methods on how to prepare parasagittal hippocampal slices, construct chambers suitable for long-term slice incubation, bidirectionally manipulate neuronal action potential frequency, load astrocytes and astrocyte processes with fluorescent Ca2+
indicator, and measure changes in astrocytic Gq GPCR activity by recording spontaneous and evoked astrocyte Ca2+
events using confocal microscopy. In essence, a “calcium roadmap” is provided for how to measure plasticity of astrocytic Gq GPCRs. Applications of the technique for study of astrocytes are discussed. Having an understanding of how astrocytic receptor signaling is affected by changes in neuronal activity has important implications for both normal synaptic function as well as processes underlying neurological disorders and neurodegenerative disease.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, astrocyte, plasticity, mGluRs, neuronal Firing, electrophysiology, Gq GPCRs, Bolus-loading, calcium, microdomains, acute slices, Hippocampus, mouse
The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology
Microfabricated Post-Array-Detectors (mPADs): an Approach to Isolate Mechanical Forces
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania , University of Washington.
In this video, we will present our approach to measure cellular traction forces using a microfabricated array of posts. Traction forces are generated through myosin-actin interactions and play an important role in our physiology. During development, they enable cells to move from one location to the next in order to form the early structures of tissue. Traction forces help in the healing processes. They are necessary for the proper closure of wounds or the migration and crawling of leukocytes through our body. These same forces can be detrimental to our health in the case of cancer metastasis or vascular growth towards a tumor. The most common method by which to study cells in vitro has been to use a glass or polystyrene dish. However, the rigidity of the substrates makes it impossible to physically measure cell traction forces, and there are relatively few methods to study traction forces. Our lab has developed a technique to overcome these limitations. The method is based on a vertical array of flexible cantilevers, the stiffness and size scale of which are such that individual cells spread across many cantilevers and deflect them in the process. The pillars we use are 3 μm in diameter, 10 μm tall, and are configured in a regular array with 9 μm center-to-center spacing. But these physical dimensions can be readily varied to accommodate a variety of studies. We start with a silicon master, but the final posts are made out of silicone rubber called poly (dimethyl siloxane), or PDMS. We can measure the deflections under a microscope and calculate the magnitude and direction of traction forces required to produce the observed deflections. We call these substrates microfabricated post-array-detectors, or mPADs. Here, we will show you how we fabricate and use the mPADs to assess modulations of cellular contractility.
Cellular biology, Issue 8, mechanotransduction, traction force, microfabrication
A Low Cost Setup for Behavioral Audiometry in Rodents
Institutions: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
In auditory animal research it is crucial to have precise information about basic hearing parameters of the animal subjects that are involved in the experiments. Such parameters may be physiological response characteristics of the auditory pathway, e.g.
via brainstem audiometry (BERA). But these methods allow only indirect and uncertain extrapolations about the auditory percept that corresponds to these physiological parameters. To assess the perceptual level of hearing, behavioral methods have to be used. A potential problem with the use of behavioral methods for the description of perception in animal models is the fact that most of these methods involve some kind of learning paradigm before the subjects can be behaviorally tested, e.g.
animals may have to learn to press a lever in response to a sound. As these learning paradigms change perception itself 1,2
they consequently will influence any result about perception obtained with these methods and therefore have to be interpreted with caution. Exceptions are paradigms that make use of reflex responses, because here no learning paradigms have to be carried out prior to perceptual testing. One such reflex response is the acoustic startle response (ASR) that can highly reproducibly be elicited with unexpected loud sounds in naïve animals. This ASR in turn can be influenced by preceding sounds depending on the perceptibility of this preceding stimulus: Sounds well above hearing threshold will completely inhibit the amplitude of the ASR; sounds close to threshold will only slightly inhibit the ASR. This phenomenon is called pre-pulse inhibition (PPI) 3,4
, and the amount of PPI on the ASR gradually depends on the perceptibility of the pre-pulse. PPI of the ASR is therefore well suited to determine behavioral audiograms in naïve, non-trained animals, to determine hearing impairments or even to detect possible subjective tinnitus percepts in these animals. In this paper we demonstrate the use of this method in a rodent model (cf. also ref. 5
), the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus), which is a well know model species for startle response research within the normal human hearing range (e.g. 6
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, otolaryngology, behavior, auditory startle response, pre-pulse inhibition, audiogram, tinnitus, hearing loss
Patch Clamp Recording of Ion Channels Expressed in Xenopus Oocytes
Institutions: Stanford University , Stanford University School of Medicine.
Since its development by Sakmann and Neher 1, 2
, the patch clamp has become established as an extremely useful technique for electrophysiological measurement of single or multiple ion channels in cells. This technique can be applied to ion channels in both their native environment and expressed in heterologous cells, such as oocytes harvested from the African clawed frog, Xenopus laevis. Here, we describe the well-established technique of patch clamp recording from Xenopus oocytes. This technique is used to measure the properties of expressed ion channels either in populations (macropatch) or individually (single-channel recording). We focus on techniques to maximize the quality of oocyte preparation and seal generation. With all factors optimized, this technique gives a probability of successful seal generation over 90 percent. The process may be optimized differently by every researcher based on the factors he or she finds most important, and we present the approach that have lead to the greatest success in our hands.
Cellular Biology, Issue 20, Electrophysiology, Patch Clamp, Voltage Clamp, Oocytes, Biophysics, Gigaseal, Ion Channels