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.
26 Related JoVE Articles!
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
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
Three Dimensional Vestibular Ocular Reflex Testing Using a Six Degrees of Freedom Motion Platform
Institutions: Erasmus MC, TNO Human Factors.
The vestibular organ is a sensor that measures angular and linear accelerations with six degrees of freedom (6DF). Complete or partial defects in the vestibular organ results in mild to severe equilibrium problems, such as vertigo, dizziness, oscillopsia, gait unsteadiness nausea and/or vomiting. A good and frequently used measure to quantify gaze stabilization is the gain, which is defined as the magnitude of compensatory eye movements with respect to imposed head movements. To test vestibular function more fully one has to realize that 3D VOR ideally generates compensatory ocular rotations not only with a magnitude (gain) equal and opposite to the head rotation but also about an axis that is co-linear with the head rotation axis (alignment). Abnormal vestibular function thus results in changes in gain and changes in alignment of the 3D VOR response.
Here we describe a method to measure 3D VOR using whole body rotation on a 6DF motion platform. Although the method also allows testing translation VOR responses 1
, we limit ourselves to a discussion of the method to measure 3D angular VOR. In addition, we restrict ourselves here to description of data collected in healthy subjects in response to angular sinusoidal and impulse stimulation.
Subjects are sitting upright and receive whole-body small amplitude sinusoidal and constant acceleration impulses. Sinusoidal stimuli (f = 1 Hz, A = 4°) were delivered about the vertical axis and about axes in the horizontal plane varying between roll and pitch at increments of 22.5° in azimuth. Impulses were delivered in yaw, roll and pitch and in the vertical canal planes. Eye movements were measured using the scleral search coil technique 2
. Search coil signals were sampled at a frequency of 1 kHz.
The input-output ratio (gain) and misalignment (co-linearity) of the 3D VOR were calculated from the eye coil signals 3
Gain and co-linearity of 3D VOR depended on the orientation of the stimulus axis. Systematic deviations were found in particular during horizontal axis stimulation. In the light the eye rotation axis was properly aligned with the stimulus axis at orientations 0° and 90° azimuth, but gradually deviated more and more towards 45° azimuth.
The systematic deviations in misalignment for intermediate axes can be explained by a low gain for torsion (X-axis or roll-axis rotation) and a high gain for vertical eye movements (Y-axis or pitch-axis rotation (see Figure 2
). Because intermediate axis stimulation leads a compensatory response based on vector summation of the individual eye rotation components, the net response axis will deviate because the gain for X- and Y-axis are different.
In darkness the gain of all eye rotation components had lower values. The result was that the misalignment in darkness and for impulses had different peaks and troughs than in the light: its minimum value was reached for pitch axis stimulation and its maximum for roll axis stimulation.
Nine subjects participated in the experiment. All subjects gave their informed consent. The experimental procedure was approved by the Medical Ethics Committee of Erasmus University Medical Center and adhered to the Declaration of Helsinki for research involving human subjects.
Six subjects served as controls. Three subjects had a unilateral vestibular impairment due to a vestibular schwannoma. The age of control subjects (six males and three females) ranged from 22 to 55 years. None of the controls had visual or vestibular complaints due to neurological, cardio vascular and ophthalmic disorders.
The age of the patients with schwannoma varied between 44 and 64 years (two males and one female). All schwannoma subjects were under medical surveillance and/or had received treatment by a multidisciplinary team consisting of an othorhinolaryngologist and a neurosurgeon of the Erasmus University Medical Center. Tested patients all had a right side vestibular schwannoma and underwent a wait and watch policy (Table 1
; subjects N1-N3) after being diagnosed with vestibular schwannoma. Their tumors had been stabile for over 8-10 years on magnetic resonance imaging.
Neurobiology, Issue 75, Neuroscience, Medicine, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Ophthalmology, vestibulo ocular reflex, eye movements, torsion, balance disorders, rotation translation, equilibrium, eye rotation, motion, body rotation, vestibular organ, clinical techniques
A Lightweight, Headphones-based System for Manipulating Auditory Feedback in Songbirds
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University, Emory University.
Experimental manipulations of sensory feedback during complex behavior have provided valuable insights into the computations underlying motor control and sensorimotor plasticity1
. Consistent sensory perturbations result in compensatory changes in motor output, reflecting changes in feedforward motor control that reduce the experienced feedback error. By quantifying how different sensory feedback errors affect human behavior, prior studies have explored how visual signals are used to recalibrate arm movements2,3
and auditory feedback is used to modify speech production4-7
. The strength of this approach rests on the ability to mimic naturalistic errors in behavior, allowing the experimenter to observe how experienced errors in production are used to recalibrate motor output.
Songbirds provide an excellent animal model for investigating the neural basis of sensorimotor control and plasticity8,9
. The songbird brain provides a well-defined circuit in which the areas necessary for song learning are spatially separated from those required for song production, and neural recording and lesion studies have made significant advances in understanding how different brain areas contribute to vocal behavior9-12
. However, the lack of a naturalistic error-correction paradigm - in which a known acoustic parameter is perturbed by the experimenter and then corrected by the songbird - has made it difficult to understand the computations underlying vocal learning or how different elements of the neural circuit contribute to the correction of vocal errors13
The technique described here gives the experimenter precise control over auditory feedback errors in singing birds, allowing the introduction of arbitrary sensory errors that can be used to drive vocal learning. Online sound-processing equipment is used to introduce a known perturbation to the acoustics of song, and a miniaturized headphones apparatus is used to replace a songbird's natural auditory feedback with the perturbed signal in real time. We have used this paradigm to perturb the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in adult songbirds, providing the first demonstration that adult birds maintain vocal performance using error correction14
. The present protocol can be used to implement a wide range of sensory feedback perturbations (including but not limited to pitch shifts) to investigate the computational and neurophysiological basis of vocal learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Anatomy, Physiology, Zoology, Behavior, Songbird, psychophysics, auditory feedback, biology, sensorimotor learning
Scalable Nanohelices for Predictive Studies and Enhanced 3D Visualization
Institutions: University of California Merced, University of California Merced.
Spring-like materials are ubiquitous in nature and of interest in nanotechnology for energy harvesting, hydrogen storage, and biological sensing applications. For predictive simulations, it has become increasingly important to be able to model the structure of nanohelices accurately. To study the effect of local structure on the properties of these complex geometries one must develop realistic models. To date, software packages are rather limited in creating atomistic helical models. This work focuses on producing atomistic models of silica glass (SiO2
) nanoribbons and nanosprings for molecular dynamics (MD) simulations. Using an MD model of “bulk” silica glass, two computational procedures to precisely create the shape of nanoribbons and nanosprings are presented. The first method employs the AWK programming language and open-source software to effectively carve various shapes of silica nanoribbons from the initial bulk model, using desired dimensions and parametric equations to define a helix. With this method, accurate atomistic silica nanoribbons can be generated for a range of pitch values and dimensions. The second method involves a more robust code which allows flexibility in modeling nanohelical structures. This approach utilizes a C++ code particularly written to implement pre-screening methods as well as the mathematical equations for a helix, resulting in greater precision and efficiency when creating nanospring models. Using these codes, well-defined and scalable nanoribbons and nanosprings suited for atomistic simulations can be effectively created. An added value in both open-source codes is that they can be adapted to reproduce different helical structures, independent of material. In addition, a MATLAB graphical user interface (GUI) is used to enhance learning through visualization and interaction for a general user with the atomistic helical structures. One application of these methods is the recent study of nanohelices via MD simulations for mechanical energy harvesting purposes.
Physics, Issue 93, Helical atomistic models; open-source coding; graphical user interface; visualization software; molecular dynamics simulations; graphical processing unit accelerated simulations.
Convergent Polishing: A Simple, Rapid, Full Aperture Polishing Process of High Quality Optical Flats & Spheres
Institutions: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Convergent Polishing is a novel polishing system and method for finishing flat and spherical glass optics in which a workpiece, independent of its initial shape (i.e.
, surface figure), will converge to final surface figure with excellent surface quality under a fixed, unchanging set of polishing parameters in a single polishing iteration. In contrast, conventional full aperture polishing methods require multiple, often long, iterative cycles involving polishing, metrology and process changes to achieve the desired surface figure. The Convergent Polishing process is based on the concept of workpiece-lap height mismatch resulting in pressure differential that decreases with removal and results in the workpiece converging to the shape of the lap. The successful implementation of the Convergent Polishing process is a result of the combination of a number of technologies to remove all sources of non-uniform spatial material removal (except for workpiece-lap mismatch) for surface figure convergence and to reduce the number of rogue particles in the system for low scratch densities and low roughness. The Convergent Polishing process has been demonstrated for the fabrication of both flats and spheres of various shapes, sizes, and aspect ratios on various glass materials. The practical impact is that high quality optical components can be fabricated more rapidly, more repeatedly, with less metrology, and with less labor, resulting in lower unit costs. In this study, the Convergent Polishing protocol is specifically described for fabricating 26.5 cm square fused silica flats from a fine ground surface to a polished ~λ/2 surface figure after polishing 4 hr per surface on a 81 cm diameter polisher.
Physics, Issue 94, optical fabrication, pad polishing, fused silica glass, optical flats, optical spheres, ceria slurry, pitch button blocking, HF etching, scratches
Mapping the After-effects of Theta Burst Stimulation on the Human Auditory Cortex with Functional Imaging
Institutions: McGill University .
Auditory cortex pertains to the processing of sound, which is at the basis of speech or music-related processing1
. However, despite considerable recent progress, the functional properties and lateralization of the human auditory cortex are far from being fully understood. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive technique that can transiently or lastingly modulate cortical excitability via the application of localized magnetic field pulses, and represents a unique method of exploring plasticity and connectivity. It has only recently begun to be applied to understand auditory cortical function 2
An important issue in using TMS is that the physiological consequences of the stimulation are difficult to establish. Although many TMS studies make the implicit assumption that the area targeted by the coil is the area affected, this need not be the case, particularly for complex cognitive functions which depend on interactions across many brain regions 3
. One solution to this problem is to combine TMS with functional Magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The idea here is that fMRI will provide an index of changes in brain activity associated with TMS. Thus, fMRI would give an independent means of assessing which areas are affected by TMS and how they are modulated 4
. In addition, fMRI allows the assessment of functional connectivity, which represents a measure of the temporal coupling between distant regions. It can thus be useful not only to measure the net activity modulation induced by TMS in given locations, but also the degree to which the network properties are affected by TMS, via any observed changes in functional connectivity.
Different approaches exist to combine TMS and functional imaging according to the temporal order of the methods. Functional MRI can be applied before, during, after, or both before and after TMS. Recently, some studies interleaved TMS and fMRI in order to provide online mapping of the functional changes induced by TMS 5-7
. However, this online combination has many technical problems, including the static artifacts resulting from the presence of the TMS coil in the scanner room, or the effects of TMS pulses on the process of MR image formation. But more importantly, the loud acoustic noise induced by TMS (increased compared with standard use because of the resonance of the scanner bore) and the increased TMS coil vibrations (caused by the strong mechanical forces due to the static magnetic field of the MR scanner) constitute a crucial problem when studying auditory processing.
This is one reason why fMRI was carried out before and after TMS in the present study. Similar approaches have been used to target the motor cortex 8,9
, premotor cortex 10
, primary somatosensory cortex 11,12
and language-related areas 13
, but so far no combined TMS-fMRI study has investigated the auditory cortex. The purpose of this article is to provide details concerning the protocol and considerations necessary to successfully combine these two neuroscientific tools to investigate auditory processing.
Previously we showed that repetitive TMS (rTMS) at high and low frequencies (resp. 10 Hz and 1 Hz) applied over the auditory cortex modulated response time (RT) in a melody discrimination task 2
. We also showed that RT modulation was correlated with functional connectivity in the auditory network assessed using fMRI: the higher the functional connectivity between left and right auditory cortices during task performance, the higher the facilitatory effect (i.e.
decreased RT) observed with rTMS. However those findings were mainly correlational, as fMRI was performed before rTMS. Here, fMRI was carried out before and immediately after TMS to provide direct measures of the functional organization of the auditory cortex, and more specifically of the plastic reorganization of the auditory neural network occurring after the neural intervention provided by TMS.
Combined fMRI and TMS applied over the auditory cortex should enable a better understanding of brain mechanisms of auditory processing, providing physiological information about functional effects of TMS. This knowledge could be useful for many cognitive neuroscience applications, as well as for optimizing therapeutic applications of TMS, particularly in auditory-related disorders.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Physiology, Physics, Theta burst stimulation, functional magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, auditory cortex, frameless stereotaxy, sound, transcranial magnetic stimulation
Lesion Explorer: A Video-guided, Standardized Protocol for Accurate and Reliable MRI-derived Volumetrics in Alzheimer's Disease and Normal Elderly
Institutions: Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto.
Obtaining in vivo
human brain tissue volumetrics from MRI is often complicated by various technical and biological issues. These challenges are exacerbated when significant brain atrophy and age-related white matter changes (e.g.
Leukoaraiosis) are present. Lesion Explorer (LE) is an accurate and reliable neuroimaging pipeline specifically developed to address such issues commonly observed on MRI of Alzheimer's disease and normal elderly. The pipeline is a complex set of semi-automatic procedures which has been previously validated in a series of internal and external reliability tests1,2
. However, LE's accuracy and reliability is highly dependent on properly trained manual operators to execute commands, identify distinct anatomical landmarks, and manually edit/verify various computer-generated segmentation outputs.
LE can be divided into 3 main components, each requiring a set of commands and manual operations: 1) Brain-Sizer, 2) SABRE, and 3) Lesion-Seg. Brain-Sizer's manual operations involve editing of the automatic skull-stripped total intracranial vault (TIV) extraction mask, designation of ventricular cerebrospinal fluid (vCSF), and removal of subtentorial structures. The SABRE component requires checking of image alignment along the anterior and posterior commissure (ACPC) plane, and identification of several anatomical landmarks required for regional parcellation. Finally, the Lesion-Seg component involves manual checking of the automatic lesion segmentation of subcortical hyperintensities (SH) for false positive errors.
While on-site training of the LE pipeline is preferable, readily available visual teaching tools with interactive training images are a viable alternative. Developed to ensure a high degree of accuracy and reliability, the following is a step-by-step, video-guided, standardized protocol for LE's manual procedures.
Medicine, Issue 86, Brain, Vascular Diseases, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Neuroimaging, Alzheimer Disease, Aging, Neuroanatomy, brain extraction, ventricles, white matter hyperintensities, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer disease
From Voxels to Knowledge: A Practical Guide to the Segmentation of Complex Electron Microscopy 3D-Data
Institutions: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Modern 3D electron microscopy approaches have recently allowed unprecedented insight into the 3D ultrastructural organization of cells and tissues, enabling the visualization of large macromolecular machines, such as adhesion complexes, as well as higher-order structures, such as the cytoskeleton and cellular organelles in their respective cell and tissue context. Given the inherent complexity of cellular volumes, it is essential to first extract the features of interest in order to allow visualization, quantification, and therefore comprehension of their 3D organization. Each data set is defined by distinct characteristics, e.g.
, signal-to-noise ratio, crispness (sharpness) of the data, heterogeneity of its features, crowdedness of features, presence or absence of characteristic shapes that allow for easy identification, and the percentage of the entire volume that a specific region of interest occupies. All these characteristics need to be considered when deciding on which approach to take for segmentation.
The six different 3D ultrastructural data sets presented were obtained by three different imaging approaches: resin embedded stained electron tomography, focused ion beam- and serial block face- scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM, SBF-SEM) of mildly stained and heavily stained samples, respectively. For these data sets, four different segmentation approaches have been applied: (1) fully manual model building followed solely by visualization of the model, (2) manual tracing segmentation of the data followed by surface rendering, (3) semi-automated approaches followed by surface rendering, or (4) automated custom-designed segmentation algorithms followed by surface rendering and quantitative analysis. Depending on the combination of data set characteristics, it was found that typically one of these four categorical approaches outperforms the others, but depending on the exact sequence of criteria, more than one approach may be successful. Based on these data, we propose a triage scheme that categorizes both objective data set characteristics and subjective personal criteria for the analysis of the different data sets.
Bioengineering, Issue 90, 3D electron microscopy, feature extraction, segmentation, image analysis, reconstruction, manual tracing, thresholding
Automated, Quantitative Cognitive/Behavioral Screening of Mice: For Genetics, Pharmacology, Animal Cognition and Undergraduate Instruction
Institutions: Rutgers University, Koç University, New York University, Fairfield University.
We describe a high-throughput, high-volume, fully automated, live-in 24/7 behavioral testing system for assessing the effects of genetic and pharmacological manipulations on basic mechanisms of cognition and learning in mice. A standard polypropylene mouse housing tub is connected through an acrylic tube to a standard commercial mouse test box. The test box has 3 hoppers, 2 of which are connected to pellet feeders. All are internally illuminable with an LED and monitored for head entries by infrared (IR) beams. Mice live in the environment, which eliminates handling during screening. They obtain their food during two or more daily feeding periods by performing in operant (instrumental) and Pavlovian (classical) protocols, for which we have written protocol-control software and quasi-real-time data analysis and graphing software. The data analysis and graphing routines are written in a MATLAB-based language created to simplify greatly the analysis of large time-stamped behavioral and physiological event records and to preserve a full data trail from raw data through all intermediate analyses to the published graphs and statistics within a single data structure. The data-analysis code harvests the data several times a day and subjects it to statistical and graphical analyses, which are automatically stored in the "cloud" and on in-lab computers. Thus, the progress of individual mice is visualized and quantified daily. The data-analysis code talks to the protocol-control code, permitting the automated advance from protocol to protocol of individual subjects. The behavioral protocols implemented are matching, autoshaping, timed hopper-switching, risk assessment in timed hopper-switching, impulsivity measurement, and the circadian anticipation of food availability. Open-source protocol-control and data-analysis code makes the addition of new protocols simple. Eight test environments fit in a 48 in x 24 in x 78 in cabinet; two such cabinets (16 environments) may be controlled by one computer.
Behavior, Issue 84, genetics, cognitive mechanisms, behavioral screening, learning, memory, timing
Experimental Protocol for Manipulating Plant-induced Soil Heterogeneity
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University.
Coexistence theory has often treated environmental heterogeneity as being independent of the community composition; however biotic feedbacks such as plant-soil feedbacks (PSF) have large effects on plant performance, and create environmental heterogeneity that depends on the community composition. Understanding the importance of PSF for plant community assembly necessitates understanding of the role of heterogeneity in PSF, in addition to mean PSF effects. Here, we describe a protocol for manipulating plant-induced soil heterogeneity. Two example experiments are presented: (1) a field experiment with a 6-patch grid of soils to measure plant population responses and (2) a greenhouse experiment with 2-patch soils to measure individual plant responses. Soils can be collected from the zone of root influence (soils from the rhizosphere and directly adjacent to the rhizosphere) of plants in the field from conspecific and heterospecific plant species. Replicate collections are used to avoid pseudoreplicating soil samples. These soils are then placed into separate patches for heterogeneous treatments or mixed for a homogenized treatment. Care should be taken to ensure that heterogeneous and homogenized treatments experience the same degree of soil disturbance. Plants can then be placed in these soil treatments to determine the effect of plant-induced soil heterogeneity on plant performance. We demonstrate that plant-induced heterogeneity results in different outcomes than predicted by traditional coexistence models, perhaps because of the dynamic nature of these feedbacks. Theory that incorporates environmental heterogeneity influenced by the assembling community and additional empirical work is needed to determine when heterogeneity intrinsic to the assembling community will result in different assembly outcomes compared with heterogeneity extrinsic to the community composition.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Coexistence, community assembly, environmental drivers, plant-soil feedback, soil heterogeneity, soil microbial communities, soil patch
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
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
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
A Neuroscientific Approach to the Examination of Concussions in Student-Athletes
Institutions: Elon University, Elon University, Duquesne University, Elon University.
Concussions are occurring at alarming rates in the United States and have become a serious public health concern. The CDC estimates that 1.6 to 3.8 million concussions occur in sports and recreational activities annually. Concussion as defined by the 2013 Concussion Consensus Statement “may be caused either by a direct blow to the head, face, neck or elsewhere on the body with an ‘impulsive’ force transmitted to the head.” Concussions leave the individual with both short- and long-term effects. The short-term effects of sport related concussions may include changes in playing ability, confusion, memory disturbance, the loss of consciousness, slowing of reaction time, loss of coordination, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, changes in sleep patterns and mood changes. These symptoms typically resolve in a matter of days. However, while some individuals recover from a single concussion rather quickly, many experience lingering effects that can last for weeks or months. The factors related to concussion susceptibility and the subsequent recovery times are not well known or understood at this time. Several factors have been suggested and they include the individual’s concussion history, the severity of the initial injury, history of migraines, history of learning disabilities, history of psychiatric comorbidities, and possibly, genetic factors. Many studies have individually investigated certain factors both the short-term and long-term effects of concussions, recovery time course, susceptibility and recovery. What has not been clearly established is an effective multifaceted approach to concussion evaluation that would yield valuable information related to the etiology, functional changes, and recovery. The purpose of this manuscript is to show one such multifaceted approached which examines concussions using computerized neurocognitive testing, event related potentials, somatosensory perceptual responses, balance assessment, gait assessment and genetic testing.
Medicine, Issue 94, Concussions, Student-Athletes, Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Genetics, Cognitive Function, Balance, Gait, Somatosensory
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
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
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
Whole-cell Patch-clamp Recordings from Morphologically- and Neurochemically-identified Hippocampal Interneurons
Institutions: Charité Universitätmedizin.
GABAergic inhibitory interneurons play a central role within neuronal circuits of the brain. Interneurons comprise a small subset of the neuronal population (10-20%), but show a high level of physiological, morphological, and neurochemical heterogeneity, reflecting their diverse functions. Therefore, investigation of interneurons provides important insights into the organization principles and function of neuronal circuits. This, however, requires an integrated physiological and neuroanatomical approach for the selection and identification of individual interneuron types. Whole-cell patch-clamp recording from acute brain slices of transgenic animals, expressing fluorescent proteins under the promoters of interneuron-specific markers, provides an efficient method to target and electrophysiologically characterize intrinsic and synaptic properties of specific interneuron types. Combined with intracellular dye labeling, this approach can be extended with post-hoc morphological and immunocytochemical analysis, enabling systematic identification of recorded neurons. These methods can be tailored to suit a broad range of scientific questions regarding functional properties of diverse types of cortical neurons.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, electrophysiology, acute slice, whole-cell patch-clamp recording, neuronal morphology, immunocytochemistry, parvalbumin, hippocampus, inhibition, GABAergic interneurons, synaptic transmission, IPSC, GABA-B receptor
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
Voltage-sensitive Dye Recording from Axons, Dendrites and Dendritic Spines of Individual Neurons in Brain Slices
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine .
Understanding the biophysical properties and functional organization of single neurons and how they process information is fundamental for understanding how the brain works. The primary function of any nerve cell is to process electrical signals, usually from multiple sources. Electrical properties of neuronal processes are extraordinarily complex, dynamic, and, in the general case, impossible to predict in the absence of detailed measurements. To obtain such a measurement one would, ideally, like to be able to monitor, at multiple sites, subthreshold events as they travel from the sites of origin on neuronal processes and summate at particular locations to influence action potential initiation. This goal has not been achieved in any neuron due to technical limitations of measurements that employ electrodes. To overcome this drawback, it is highly desirable to complement the patch-electrode approach with imaging techniques that permit extensive parallel recordings from all parts of a neuron. Here, we describe such a technique - optical recording of membrane potential transients with organic voltage-sensitive dyes (Vm
-imaging) - characterized by sub-millisecond and sub-micrometer resolution. Our method is based on pioneering work on voltage-sensitive molecular probes 2
. Many aspects of the initial technology have been continuously improved over several decades 3, 5, 11
. Additionally, previous work documented two essential characteristics of Vm-
imaging. Firstly, fluorescence signals are linearly proportional to membrane potential over the entire physiological range (-100 mV to +100 mV; 10, 14, 16
). Secondly, loading neurons with the voltage-sensitive dye used here (JPW 3028) does not have detectable pharmacological effects. The recorded broadening of the spike during dye loading is completely reversible 4, 7
. Additionally, experimental evidence shows that it is possible to obtain a significant number (up to hundreds) of recordings prior to any detectable phototoxic effects 4, 6, 12, 13
. At present, we take advantage of the superb brightness and stability of a laser light source at near-optimal wavelength to maximize the sensitivity of the Vm
-imaging technique. The current sensitivity permits multiple site optical recordings of Vm
transients from all parts of a neuron, including axons and axon collaterals, terminal dendritic branches, and individual dendritic spines. The acquired information on signal interactions can be analyzed quantitatively as well as directly visualized in the form of a movie.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Medicine, Physiology, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, voltage-sensitive dyes, brain, imaging, dendritic spines, axons, dendrites, neurons
Analysis of Gene Expression in Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) Using Quantitative Real Time-PCR
Institutions: The Ohio State University.
Emerald ash borer (EAB, Agrilus planipennis
) is an exotic invasive pest, which has killed millions of ash trees (Fraxinus
spp) in North America.
EAB continues to spread rapidly and attacks ash trees of different ages, from saplings to mature trees. However, to date very little or no molecular knowledge exists for EAB. We are interested in deciphering the molecular-based physiological processes at the tissue level that aid EAB in successful colonization of ash trees. In this report we show the effective use of quantitative real-time PCR (qRT-PCR) to ascertain mRNA levels in different larval tissues (including midgut, fat bodies and cuticle) and different developmental stages (including 1st
-instars, prepupae and adults) of EAB. As an example, a peritrophin gene (herein named, AP-PERI1
) is exemplified as the gene of interest and a ribosomal protein (AP-RP1
) as the internal control. Peritrophins are important components of the peritrophic membrane/matrix (PM), which is the lining of the insect gut. The PM has diverse functions including digestion and mechanical protection to the midgut epithelium.
Cellular Biology, Issue 39, quantitative real time-PCR, peritrophin, emerald ash borer, gene expression
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
Measuring Exocytosis in Neurons Using FM Labeling
The ability to measure the kinetics of vesicle release can help provide insight into some of the basics of neurotransmission. Here we used real-time imaging of vesicles labeled with FM dye to monitor the rate of presynaptic vesicle release. FM4-64 is a red fluorescent amphiphilic styryl dye that embeds into the membranes of synaptic vesicles as endocytosis is stimulated. Lipophilic interactions cause the dye to greatly increase in fluorescence, thus emitting a bright signal when associated with vesicles and a nominal one when in the extracellular fluid. After a wash step is used to help remove external dye within the plasma membrane, the remaining FM is concentrated within the vesicles and is then expelled when exocytosis is induced by another round of electrical stimulation. The rate of vesicles release is measured from the resulting decrease in fluorescence. Since FM dye can be applied external and transiently, it is a useful tool for determining rates of exocytosis in neuronal cultures, especially when comparing the rates between transfected synapses and neighboring control boutons.
Neuroscience, Issue 1, neuron, imaging, exocytosis
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