Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
22 Related JoVE Articles!
MPI CyberMotion Simulator: Implementation of a Novel Motion Simulator to Investigate Multisensory Path Integration in Three Dimensions
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Collège de France - CNRS, Korea University.
Path integration is a process in which self-motion is integrated over time to obtain an estimate of one's current position relative to a starting point 1
. Humans can do path integration based exclusively on visual 2-3
, auditory 4
, or inertial cues 5
. However, with multiple cues present, inertial cues - particularly kinaesthetic - seem to dominate 6-7
. In the absence of vision, humans tend to overestimate short distances (<5 m) and turning angles (<30°), but underestimate longer ones 5
. Movement through physical space therefore does not seem to be accurately represented by the brain.
Extensive work has been done on evaluating path integration in the horizontal plane, but little is known about vertical movement (see 3
for virtual movement from vision alone). One reason for this is that traditional motion simulators have a small range of motion restricted mainly to the horizontal plane. Here we take advantage of a motion simulator 8-9
with a large range of motion to assess whether path integration is similar between horizontal and vertical planes. The relative contributions of inertial and visual cues for path navigation were also assessed.
16 observers sat upright in a seat mounted to the flange of a modified KUKA anthropomorphic robot arm. Sensory information was manipulated by providing visual (optic flow, limited lifetime star field), vestibular-kinaesthetic (passive self motion with eyes closed), or visual and vestibular-kinaesthetic motion cues. Movement trajectories in the horizontal, sagittal and frontal planes consisted of two segment lengths (1st: 0.4 m, 2nd: 1 m; ±0.24 m/s2
peak acceleration). The angle of the two segments was either 45° or 90°. Observers pointed back to their origin by moving an arrow that was superimposed on an avatar presented on the screen.
Observers were more likely to underestimate angle size for movement in the horizontal plane compared to the vertical planes. In the frontal plane observers were more likely to overestimate angle size while there was no such bias in the sagittal plane. Finally, observers responded slower when answering based on vestibular-kinaesthetic information alone. Human path integration based on vestibular-kinaesthetic information alone thus takes longer than when visual information is present. That pointing is consistent with underestimating and overestimating the angle one has moved through in the horizontal and vertical planes respectively, suggests that the neural representation of self-motion through space is non-symmetrical which may relate to the fact that humans experience movement mostly within the horizontal plane.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, Motion simulator, multisensory integration, path integration, space perception, vestibular, vision, robotics, cybernetics
Using MazeSuite and Functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy to Study Learning in Spatial Navigation
Institutions: Drexel University, Drexel University.
MazeSuite is a complete toolset to prepare, present and analyze navigational and spatial experiments1
. MazeSuite can be used to design and edit adapted virtual 3D environments, track a participants' behavioral performance within the virtual environment and synchronize with external devices for physiological and neuroimaging measures, including electroencephalogram and eye tracking.
Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIR) is an optical brain imaging technique that enables continuous, noninvasive, and portable monitoring of changes in cerebral blood oxygenation related to human brain functions2-7
. Over the last decade fNIR is used to effectively monitor cognitive tasks such as attention, working memory and problem solving7-11
. fNIR can be implemented in the form of a wearable and minimally intrusive device; it has the capacity to monitor brain activity in ecologically valid environments.
Cognitive functions assessed through task performance involve patterns of brain activation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that vary from the initial novel task performance, after practice and during retention12
. Using positron emission tomography (PET), Van Horn and colleagues found that regional cerebral blood flow was activated in the right frontal lobe during the encoding (i.e., initial naïve performance) of spatial navigation of virtual mazes while there was little to no activation of the frontal regions after practice and during retention tests. Furthermore, the effects of contextual interference, a learning phenomenon related to organization of practice, are evident when individuals acquire multiple tasks under different practice schedules13,14
. High contextual interference (random practice schedule) is created when the tasks to be learned are presented in a non-sequential, unpredictable order. Low contextual interference (blocked practice schedule) is created when the tasks to be learned are presented in a predictable order.
Our goal here is twofold: first to illustrate the experimental protocol design process and the use of MazeSuite, and second, to demonstrate the setup and deployment of the fNIR brain activity monitoring system using Cognitive Optical Brain Imaging (COBI) Studio software15
. To illustrate our goals, a subsample from a study is reported to show the use of both MazeSuite and COBI Studio in a single experiment. The study involves the assessment of cognitive activity of the PFC during the acquisition and learning of computer maze tasks for blocked and random orders. Two right-handed adults (one male, one female) performed 315 acquisition, 30 retention and 20 transfer trials across four days. Design, implementation, data acquisition and analysis phases of the study were explained with the intention to provide a guideline for future studies.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, Cognitive, optical, brain, imaging, functional near-infrared spectroscopy, fNIR, spatial, navigation, software
Low-stress Route Learning Using the Lashley III Maze in Mice
Institutions: Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, Pennsylvania State University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Los Angeles.
Many behavior tests designed to assess learning and memory in rodents, particularly mice, rely on visual cues, food and/or water deprivation, or other aversive stimuli to motivate task acquisition. As animals age, sensory modalities deteriorate. For example, many strains of mice develop hearing deficits or cataracts. Changes in the sensory systems required to guide mice during task acquisition present potential confounds in interpreting learning changes in aging animals. Moreover, the use of aversive stimuli to motivate animals to learn tasks is potentially confounding when comparing mice with differential sensitivities to stress. To minimize these types of confounding effects, we have implemented a modified version of the Lashley III maze. This maze relies on route learning, whereby mice learn to navigate a maze via repeated exposure under low stress conditions, e.g. dark phase, no food/water deprivation, until they navigate a path from the start location to a pseudo-home cage with 0 or 1 error(s) on two consecutive trials. We classify this as a low-stress behavior test because it does not rely on aversive stimuli to encourage exploration of the maze and learning of the task. The apparatus consists of a modular start box, a 4-arm maze body, and a goal box. At the end of the goal box is a pseudo-home cage that contains bedding similar to that found in the animal’s home cage and is specific to each animal for the duration of maze testing. It has been demonstrated previously that this pseudo-home cage provides sufficient reward to motivate mice to learn to navigate the maze1
. Here, we present the visualization of the Lashley III maze procedure in the context of evaluating age-related differences in learning and memory in mice along with a comparison of learning behavior in two different background strains of mice. We hope that other investigators interested in evaluating the effects of aging or stress vulnerability in mice will consider this maze an attractive alternative to behavioral tests that involve more stressful learning tasks and/or visual cues.
Neuroscience, Issue 39, mouse, behavior testing, learning, memory, neuroscience, phenotyping, aging
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
Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
Assessment of Sensorimotor Function in Mouse Models of Parkinson's Disease
Institutions: University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati.
Sensitive and reliable behavioral outcome measures are essential to the evaluation of potential therapeutic treatments in preclinical trials for many neurodegenerative diseases. In Parkinson's disease, sensorimotor tests sensitive to varying degrees of nigrostriatal dysfunction are fundamental for testing the efficacy of potential therapeutics. Reliable and quite elegant sensorimotor measures exist for rats, however many of these tests measure sensorimotor asymmetry within the rat and are not entirely suitable for the newer genetic mouse models of PD. We have put together a battery of sensorimotor tests inspired by the sensitive tests in rats and adapted for mice. The test battery highlighted in this study is chosen for a) its sensitivity in a wide variety of mouse models of PD, b) its ease in implementing into a study, and c) its low expense. These tests have proven useful in characterizing novel genetic mouse models of PD as well as in testing potential disease-modifying therapies.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Basal Ganglia Diseases, Parkinsonian Disorders, Parkinson Disease, Genetics, Behavioral, Psychopharmacology, sensory, motor, mouse, movement disorders, beam, cylinder, animal model
The Measurement and Treatment of Suppression in Amblyopia
Institutions: University of Auckland, McGill University , McGill University .
Amblyopia, a developmental disorder of the visual cortex, is one of the leading causes of visual dysfunction in the working age population. Current estimates put the prevalence of amblyopia at approximately 1-3%1-3
, the majority of cases being monocular2
. Amblyopia is most frequently caused by ocular misalignment (strabismus), blur induced by unequal refractive error (anisometropia), and in some cases by form deprivation.
Although amblyopia is initially caused by abnormal visual input in infancy, once established, the visual deficit often remains when normal visual input has been restored using surgery and/or refractive correction. This is because amblyopia is the result of abnormal visual cortex development rather than a problem with the amblyopic eye itself4,5
. Amblyopia is characterized by both monocular and binocular deficits6,7
which include impaired visual acuity and poor or absent stereopsis respectively. The visual dysfunction in amblyopia is often associated with a strong suppression of the inputs from the amblyopic eye under binocular viewing conditions8
. Recent work has indicated that suppression may play a central role in both the monocular and binocular deficits associated with amblyopia9,10
Current clinical tests for suppression tend to verify the presence or absence of suppression rather than giving a quantitative measurement of the degree of suppression. Here we describe a technique for measuring amblyopic suppression with a compact, portable device11,12
. The device consists of a laptop computer connected to a pair of virtual reality goggles. The novelty of the technique lies in the way we present visual stimuli to measure suppression. Stimuli are shown to the amblyopic eye at high contrast while the contrast of the stimuli shown to the non-amblyopic eye are varied. Patients perform a simple signal/noise task that allows for a precise measurement of the strength of excitatory binocular interactions. The contrast offset at which neither eye has a performance advantage is a measure of the "balance point" and is a direct measure of suppression. This technique has been validated psychophysically both in control13,14
In addition to measuring suppression this technique also forms the basis of a novel form of treatment to decrease suppression over time and improve binocular and often monocular function in adult patients with amblyopia12,15,16
. This new treatment approach can be deployed either on the goggle system described above or on a specially modified iPod touch device15
Medicine, Issue 70, Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Amblyopia, suppression, visual cortex, binocular vision, plasticity, strabismus, anisometropia
Peering into the Dynamics of Social Interactions: Measuring Play Fighting in Rats
Institutions: University of Lethbridge.
Play fighting in the rat involves attack and defense of the nape of the neck, which if contacted, is gently nuzzled with the snout. Because the movements of one animal are countered by the actions of its partner, play fighting is a complex, dynamic interaction. This dynamic complexity raises methodological problems about what to score for experimental studies. We present a scoring schema that is sensitive to the correlated nature of the actions performed. The frequency of play fighting can be measured by counting the number of playful nape attacks occurring per unit time. However, playful defense, as it can only occur in response to attack, is necessarily a contingent measure that is best measured as a percentage (#attacks defended/total # attacks X 100%). How a particular attack is defended against can involve one of several tactics, and these are contingent on defense having taken place; consequently, the type of defense is also best expressed contingently as a percentage. Two experiments illustrate how these measurements can be used to detect the effect of brain damage on play fighting even when there is no effect on overall playfulness. That is, the schema presented here is designed to detect and evaluate changes in the content
of play following an experimental treatment.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Neurobiology, Behavior, Psychology, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Play behavior, play, fighting, wrestling, grooming, allogrooming, social interaction, rat, behavioral analysis, animal model
Proprioception and Tension Receptors in Crab Limbs: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Kentucky, University of Oregon.
The primary purpose of these procedures is to demonstrate for teaching and research purposes how to record the activity of living primary sensory neurons responsible for proprioception as they are detecting joint position and movement, and muscle tension. Electrical activity from crustacean proprioceptors and tension receptors is recorded by basic neurophysiological instrumentation, and a transducer is used to simultaneously measure force that is generated by stimulating a motor nerve. In addition, we demonstrate how to stain the neurons for a quick assessment of their anatomical arrangement or for permanent fixation. Staining reveals anatomical organization that is representative of chordotonal organs in most crustaceans. Comparing the tension nerve responses to the proprioceptive responses is an effective teaching tool in determining how these sensory neurons are defined functionally and how the anatomy is correlated to the function. Three staining techniques are presented allowing researchers and instructors to choose a method that is ideal for their laboratory.
Neuroscience, Issue 80, Crustacean, joint, Muscle, sensory, teaching, educational, neuroscience
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
A Video Demonstration of Preserved Piloting by Scent Tracking but Impaired Dead Reckoning After Fimbria-Fornix Lesions in the Rat
Institutions: Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge.
Piloting and dead reckoning navigation strategies use very different cue constellations and computational processes (Darwin, 1873; Barlow, 1964; O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; Mittelstaedt and Mittelstaedt, 1980; Landeau et al., 1984; Etienne, 1987; Gallistel, 1990;
Maurer and Séguinot, 1995). Piloting requires the use of the relationships between relatively stable external (visual, olfactory, auditory) cues, whereas dead reckoning requires the integration of cues generated by self-movement. Animals obtain self-movement information from vestibular receptors, and possibly muscle and joint receptors, and efference copy of commands that generate movement. An animal may also use the flows of visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli caused by its movements. Using a piloting strategy an animal can use geometrical calculations to determine directions and distances to places in its environment, whereas using an dead reckoning strategy it can integrate cues generated by its previous movements to return to a just left location. Dead reckoning is colloquially called "sense of direction" and "sense of distance."
Although there is considerable evidence that the hippocampus is involved in piloting (O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; O’Keefe and Speakman, 1987), there is also evidence from behavioral (Whishaw et al., 1997; Whishaw and Maaswinkel, 1998; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999), modeling (Samsonovich and McNaughton, 1997), and electrophysiological (O’Mare et al., 1994; Sharp et al., 1995; Taube and Burton, 1995; Blair and Sharp, 1996; McNaughton et al., 1996; Wiener, 1996; Golob and Taube, 1997) studies that the hippocampal formation is involved in dead reckoning. The relative contribution of the hippocampus to the two forms of navigation is still uncertain, however. Ordinarily, it is difficult to be certain that an animal is using a piloting versus a dead reckoning strategy because animals are very flexible in their use of strategies and cues (Etienne et al., 1996; Dudchenko et al., 1997; Martin et al., 1997; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999). The objective of the present video demonstrations was to solve the problem of cue specification in order to examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus in the use of these strategies. The rats were trained in a new task in which they followed linear or polygon scented trails to obtain a large food pellet hidden on an open field. Because rats have a proclivity to carry the food back to the refuge, accuracy and the cues used to return to the home base were dependent variables (Whishaw and Tomie, 1997). To force an animal to use a a dead reckoning strategy to reach its refuge with the food, the rats were tested when blindfolded or under infrared light, a spectral wavelength in which they cannot see, and in some experiments the scent trail was additionally removed once an animal reached the food. To examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus, fimbria–fornix (FF) lesions, which disrupt information flow in the hippocampal formation (Bland, 1986), impair memory (Gaffan and Gaffan, 1991), and produce spatial deficits (Whishaw and Jarrard, 1995), were used.
Neuroscience, Issue 26, Dead reckoning, fimbria-fornix, hippocampus, odor tracking, path integration, spatial learning, spatial navigation, piloting, rat, Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
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
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
Shallow Water (Paddling) Variants of Water Maze Tests in Mice
Institutions: University of Oxford.
When Richard Morris devised his water maze in 19817
, most behavioral work was done in rats. However, the greater understanding of mouse genetics led to the mouse becoming increasingly important. But researchers found that some strains of mutant mice were prone to problems like passively floating or diving when they were tested in the Morris water maze11
. This was unsurprising considering their natural habitat; rats swim naturally (classically, the "sewer rat"), whereas mice evolved in the dry areas of central Asia.
To overcome these problems, it was considered whether shallow water would be a sufficient stimulus to provide escape motivation for mice. This would also avoid the problems of drying the small creatures with a towel and then putting them in a heated recovery chamber to avoid hypothermia, which is a much more serious problem than with rats; the large ratio of surface area to volume of a mouse makes it particularly vulnerable to rapid heat loss.
Another consideration was whether a more natural escape strategy could be used, to facilitate learning. Since animals that fall into water and swim away from the safety of the shore are unlikely to pass on their genes, animals have evolved a natural tendency to swim to the edge of a body of water. The Morris water maze, however, requires them to swim to a hidden platform towards the center of the maze - exactly opposite to their evolved behavior. Therefore the paddling maze should incorporate escape to the edge of the apparatus. This feature, coupled with the use of relatively non-aversive shallow water, embodies the "Refinement" aspect of the "3 Rs" of Russell and Burch8
Various types of maze design were tried; the common feature was that the water was always shallow (2 cm deep) and escape was via a tube piercing the transparent wall of the apparatus. Other tubes ("false exits") were also placed around the walls but these were blocked off. From the inside of the maze all false exits and the single true exit looked the same. Currently a dodecagonal (12-sided) maze is in use in Oxford, with 12 true/false exits set in the corners. In a recent development a transparent paddling Y-maze has been tested successfully.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Medicine, Psychology, Mice, hippocampus, paddling pool, Alzheimer's, welfare, 3Rs, Morris water maze, paddling Y-maze, Barnes maze, animal model
Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes. Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements. Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning. Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity. The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
Barnes Maze Testing Strategies with Small and Large Rodent Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, Food and Drug Administration.
Spatial learning and memory of laboratory rodents is often assessed via navigational ability in mazes, most popular of which are the water and dry-land (Barnes) mazes. Improved performance over sessions or trials is thought to reflect learning and memory of the escape cage/platform location. Considered less stressful than water mazes, the Barnes maze is a relatively simple design of a circular platform top with several holes equally spaced around the perimeter edge. All but one of the holes are false-bottomed or blind-ending, while one leads to an escape cage. Mildly aversive stimuli (e.g.
bright overhead lights) provide motivation to locate the escape cage. Latency to locate the escape cage can be measured during the session; however, additional endpoints typically require video recording. From those video recordings, use of automated tracking software can generate a variety of endpoints that are similar to those produced in water mazes (e.g.
distance traveled, velocity/speed, time spent in the correct quadrant, time spent moving/resting, and confirmation of latency). Type of search strategy (i.e.
random, serial, or direct) can be categorized as well. Barnes maze construction and testing methodologies can differ for small rodents, such as mice, and large rodents, such as rats. For example, while extra-maze cues are effective for rats, smaller wild rodents may require intra-maze cues with a visual barrier around the maze. Appropriate stimuli must be identified which motivate the rodent to locate the escape cage. Both Barnes and water mazes can be time consuming as 4-7 test trials are typically required to detect improved learning and memory performance (e.g.
shorter latencies or path lengths to locate the escape platform or cage) and/or differences between experimental groups. Even so, the Barnes maze is a widely employed behavioral assessment measuring spatial navigational abilities and their potential disruption by genetic, neurobehavioral manipulations, or drug/ toxicant exposure.
Behavior, Issue 84, spatial navigation, rats, Peromyscus, mice, intra- and extra-maze cues, learning, memory, latency, search strategy, escape motivation
A Standardized Obstacle Course for Assessment of Visual Function in Ultra Low Vision and Artificial Vision
Institutions: University of Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh.
We describe an indoor, portable, standardized course that can be used to evaluate obstacle avoidance in persons who have ultralow vision. Six sighted controls and 36 completely blind but otherwise healthy adult male (n=29) and female (n=13) subjects (age range 19-85 years), were enrolled in one of three studies involving testing of the BrainPort sensory substitution device. Subjects were asked to navigate the course prior to, and after, BrainPort training. They completed a total of 837 course runs in two different locations. Means and standard deviations were calculated across control types, courses, lights, and visits. We used a linear mixed effects model to compare different categories in the PPWS (percent preferred walking speed) and error percent data to show that the course iterations were properly designed. The course is relatively inexpensive, simple to administer, and has been shown to be a feasible way to test mobility function. Data analysis demonstrates that for the outcome of percent error as well as for percentage preferred walking speed, that each of the three courses is different, and that within each level, each of the three iterations are equal. This allows for randomization of the courses during administration.
preferred walking speed (PWS)
course speed (CS)
percentage preferred walking speed (PPWS)
Medicine, Issue 84, Obstacle course, navigation assessment, BrainPort, wayfinding, low vision
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
Morris Water Maze Experiment
Institutions: Michigan State University (MSU).
The Morris water maze is widely used to study spatial memory and learning. Animals are placed in a pool of water that is colored opaque with powdered non-fat milk or non-toxic tempera paint, where they must swim to a hidden escape platform. Because they are in opaque water, the animals cannot see the platform, and cannot rely on scent to find the escape route. Instead, they must rely on external/extra-maze cues. As the animals become more familiar with the task, they are able to find the platform more quickly. Developed by Richard G. Morris in 1984, this paradigm has become one of the "gold standards" of behavioral neuroscience.
Behavior, Issue 19, Declarative, Hippocampus, Memory, Procedural, Rodent, Spatial Learning
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
Human Fear Conditioning Conducted in Full Immersion 3-Dimensional Virtual Reality
Institutions: Duke University, Duke University.
Fear conditioning is a widely used paradigm in non-human animal research to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying fear and anxiety. A major challenge in conducting conditioning studies in humans is the ability to strongly manipulate or simulate the environmental contexts that are associated with conditioned emotional behaviors. In this regard, virtual reality (VR) technology is a promising tool. Yet, adapting this technology to meet experimental constraints requires special accommodations. Here we address the methodological issues involved when conducting fear conditioning in a fully immersive 6-sided VR environment and present fear conditioning data.
In the real world, traumatic events occur in complex environments that are made up of many cues, engaging all of our sensory modalities. For example, cues that form the environmental configuration include not only visual elements, but aural, olfactory, and even tactile. In rodent studies of fear conditioning animals are fully immersed in a context that is rich with novel visual, tactile and olfactory cues. However, standard laboratory tests of fear conditioning in humans are typically conducted in a nondescript room in front of a flat or 2D computer screen and do not replicate the complexity of real world experiences. On the other hand, a major limitation of clinical studies aimed at reducing (extinguishing) fear and preventing relapse in anxiety disorders is that treatment occurs after participants have acquired a fear in an uncontrolled and largely unknown context. Thus the experimenters are left without information about the duration of exposure, the true nature of the stimulus, and associated background cues in the environment1
. In the absence of this information it can be difficult to truly extinguish a fear that is both cue and context-dependent. Virtual reality environments address these issues by providing the complexity of the real world, and at the same time allowing experimenters to constrain fear conditioning and extinction parameters to yield empirical data that can suggest better treatment options and/or analyze mechanistic hypotheses.
In order to test the hypothesis that fear conditioning may be richly encoded and context specific when conducted in a fully immersive environment, we developed distinct virtual reality 3-D contexts in which participants experienced fear conditioning to virtual snakes or spiders. Auditory cues co-occurred with the CS in order to further evoke orienting responses and a feeling of "presence" in subjects 2
. Skin conductance response served as the dependent measure of fear acquisition, memory retention and extinction.
JoVE Neuroscience, Issue 42, fear conditioning, virtual reality, human memory, skin conductance response, context learning