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.
27 Related JoVE Articles!
Long-term Lethal Toxicity Test with the Crustacean Artemia franciscana
Institutions: Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, Regional Agency for Environmental Protection in Emilia-Romagna.
Our research activities target the use of biological methods for the evaluation of environmental quality, with particular reference to saltwater/brackish water and sediment. The choice of biological indicators must be based on reliable scientific knowledge and, possibly, on the availability of standardized procedures. In this article, we present a standardized protocol that used the marine crustacean Artemia
to evaluate the toxicity of chemicals and/or of marine environmental matrices. Scientists propose that the brine shrimp (Artemia
) is a suitable candidate for the development of a standard bioassay for worldwide utilization. A number of papers have been published on the toxic effects of various chemicals and toxicants on brine shrimp (Artemia
). The major advantage of this crustacean for toxicity studies is the overall availability of the dry cysts; these can be immediately used in testing and difficult cultivation is not demanded1,2
. Cyst-based toxicity assays are cheap, continuously available, simple and reliable and are thus an important answer to routine needs of toxicity screening, for industrial monitoring requirements or for regulatory purposes3
. The proposed method involves the mortality as an endpoint. The numbers of survivors were counted and percentage of deaths were calculated. Larvae were considered dead if they did not exhibit any internal or external movement during several seconds of observation4
. This procedure was standardized testing a reference substance (Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate); some results are reported in this work. This article accompanies a video that describes the performance of procedural toxicity testing, showing all the steps related to the protocol.
Chemistry, Issue 62, Artemia franciscana, bioassays, chemical substances, crustaceans, marine environment
Metabolic Pathway Confirmation and Discovery Through 13C-labeling of Proteinogenic Amino Acids
Institutions: Washington University, Washington University, Washington University.
Microbes have complex metabolic pathways that can be investigated using biochemistry and functional genomics methods. One important technique to examine cell central metabolism and discover new enzymes is 13
C-assisted metabolism analysis 1. This technique is based on isotopic labeling, whereby microbes are fed with a 13
C labeled substrates. By tracing the atom transition paths between metabolites in the biochemical network, we can determine functional pathways and discover new enzymes.
As a complementary method to transcriptomics and proteomics, approaches for isotopomer-assisted analysis of metabolic pathways contain three major steps 2
, we grow cells with 13
C labeled substrates. In this step, the composition of the medium and the selection of labeled substrates are two key factors. To avoid measurement noises from non-labeled carbon in nutrient supplements, a minimal medium with a sole carbon source is required. Further, the choice of a labeled substrate is based on how effectively it will elucidate the pathway being analyzed. Because novel enzymes often involve different reaction stereochemistry or intermediate products, in general, singly labeled carbon substrates are more informative for detection of novel pathways than uniformly labeled ones for detection of novel pathways3, 4
, we analyze amino acid labeling patterns using GC-MS. Amino acids are abundant in protein and thus can be obtained from biomass hydrolysis. Amino acids can be derivatized by N-(tert-butyldimethylsilyl)-N-methyltrifluoroacetamide (TBDMS) before GC separation. TBDMS derivatized amino acids can be fragmented by MS and result in different arrays of fragments. Based on the mass to charge (m/z) ratio of fragmented and unfragmented amino acids, we can deduce the possible labeled patterns of the central metabolites that are precursors of the amino acids. Third
, we trace 13C carbon transitions in the proposed pathways and, based on the isotopomer data, confirm whether these pathways are active 2
. Measurement of amino acids provides isotopic labeling information about eight crucial precursor metabolites in the central metabolism. These metabolic key nodes can reflect the functions of associated central pathways.
C-assisted metabolism analysis via proteinogenic amino acids can be widely used for functional characterization of poorly-characterized microbial metabolism1
. In this protocol, we will use Cyanothece
51142 as the model strain to demonstrate the use of labeled carbon substrates for discovering new enzymatic functions.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, GC-MS, novel pathway, metabolism, labeling, phototrophic microorganism
Microiontophoresis and Micromanipulation for Intravital Fluorescence Imaging of the Microcirculation
Institutions: University of Missouri, University of Missouri.
Microiontophoresis entails passage of current through a micropipette tip to deliver a solute at a designated site within an experimental preparation. Microiontophoresis can simulate synaptic transmission1
by delivering neurotransmitters and neuropeptides onto neurons reproducibly2
. Negligible volume (fluid) displacement avoids mechanical disturbance to the experimental preparation. Adapting these techniques to the microcirculation3
has enabled mechanisms of vasodilation and vasoconstriction to be studied at the microscopic level in vivo4,5
. A key advantage of such localized delivery is enabling vasomotor responses to be studied at defined sites within a microvascular network without evoking systemic or reflexive changes in blood pressure and tissue blood flow, thereby revealing intrinsic properties of microvessels.
A limitation of microiontophoresis is that the precise concentration of agent delivered to the site of interest is difficult to ascertain6
. Nevertheless, its release from the micropipette tip is proportional to the intensity and duration of the ejection current2,7
, such that reproducible stimulus-response relationships can be readily determined under defined experimental conditions (described below). Additional factors affecting microiontophoretic delivery include solute concentration and its ionization in solution. The internal diameter of the micropipette tip should be ˜ 1 μm or less to minimize diffusional 'leak', which can be counteracted with a retaining current. Thus an outward (positive) current is used to eject a cation and a negative current used to retain it within the micropipette.
Fabrication of micropipettes is facilitated with sophisticated electronic pullers8
. Micropipettes are pulled from glass capillary tubes containing a filament that 'wicks' solution into the tip of the micropipette when filled from the back end ("backfilled"). This is done by inserting a microcapillary tube connected to a syringe containing the solution of interest and ejecting the solution into the lumen of the micropipette. Micromanipulators enable desired placement of micropipettes within the experimental preparation. Micromanipulators mounted on a movable base can be positioned around the preparation according to the topography of microvascular networks (developed below).
The present protocol demonstrates microiontophoresis of acetylcholine (ACh+
) onto an arteriole of the mouse cremaster muscle preparation (See associated protocol: JoVE ID#2874) to produce endothelium-dependent vasodilation. Stimulus delivery is synchronized with digitized image acquisition using an electronic trigger. The use of Cx40BAC
-GCaMP2 transgenic mice9
enables visualization of intracellular calcium responses underlying vasodilation in arteriolar endothelial cells in the living microcirculation.
Medicine, Issue 52, cremaster muscle, microcirculation, micropipettes, intravital microscopy
Low Molecular Weight Protein Enrichment on Mesoporous Silica Thin Films for Biomarker Discovery
Institutions: The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, National Center for Nanoscience and Technology.
The identification of circulating biomarkers holds great potential for non invasive approaches in early diagnosis and prognosis, as well as for the monitoring of therapeutic efficiency.1-3
The circulating low molecular weight proteome (LMWP) composed of small proteins shed from tissues and cells or peptide fragments derived from the proteolytic degradation of larger proteins, has been associated with the pathological condition in patients and likely reflects the state of disease.4,5
Despite these potential clinical applications, the use of Mass Spectrometry (MS) to profile the LMWP from biological fluids has proven to be very challenging due to the large dynamic range of protein and peptide concentrations in serum.6
Without sample pre-treatment, some of the more highly abundant proteins obscure the detection of low-abundance species in serum/plasma. Current proteomic-based approaches, such as two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel-electrophoresis (2D-PAGE) and shotgun proteomics methods are labor-intensive, low throughput and offer limited suitability for clinical applications.7-9
Therefore, a more effective strategy is needed to isolate LMWP from blood and allow the high throughput screening of clinical samples.
Here, we present a fast, efficient and reliable multi-fractionation system based on mesoporous silica chips to specifically target and enrich LMWP.10,11
Mesoporous silica (MPS) thin films with tunable features at the nanoscale were fabricated using the triblock copolymer template pathway. Using different polymer templates and polymer concentrations in the precursor solution, various pore size distributions, pore structures, connectivity and surface properties were determined and applied for selective recovery of low mass proteins. The selective parsing of the enriched peptides into different subclasses according to their physicochemical properties will enhance the efficiency of recovery and detection of low abundance species. In combination with mass spectrometry and statistic analysis, we demonstrated the correlation between the nanophase characteristics of the mesoporous silica thin films and the specificity and efficacy of low mass proteome harvesting. The results presented herein reveal the potential of the nanotechnology-based technology to provide a powerful alternative to conventional methods for LMWP harvesting from complex biological fluids. Because of the ability to tune the material properties, the capability for low-cost production, the simplicity and rapidity of sample collection, and the greatly reduced sample requirements for analysis, this novel nanotechnology will substantially impact the field of proteomic biomarker research and clinical proteomic assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 62, Nanoporous silica chip, Low molecular weight proteomics, Peptidomics, MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, early diagnostics, proteomics
An Affordable HIV-1 Drug Resistance Monitoring Method for Resource Limited Settings
Institutions: University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa, Jembi Health Systems, University of Amsterdam, Stanford Medical School.
HIV-1 drug resistance has the potential to seriously compromise the effectiveness and impact of antiretroviral therapy (ART). As ART programs in sub-Saharan Africa continue to expand, individuals on ART should be closely monitored for the emergence of drug resistance. Surveillance of transmitted drug resistance to track transmission of viral strains already resistant to ART is also critical. Unfortunately, drug resistance testing is still not readily accessible in resource limited settings, because genotyping is expensive and requires sophisticated laboratory and data management infrastructure. An open access genotypic drug resistance monitoring method to manage individuals and assess transmitted drug resistance is described. The method uses free open source software for the interpretation of drug resistance patterns and the generation of individual patient reports. The genotyping protocol has an amplification rate of greater than 95% for plasma samples with a viral load >1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The sensitivity decreases significantly for viral loads <1,000 HIV-1 RNA copies/ml. The method described here was validated against a method of HIV-1 drug resistance testing approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Viroseq genotyping method. Limitations of the method described here include the fact that it is not automated and that it also failed to amplify the circulating recombinant form CRF02_AG from a validation panel of samples, although it amplified subtypes A and B from the same panel.
Medicine, Issue 85, Biomedical Technology, HIV-1, HIV Infections, Viremia, Nucleic Acids, genetics, antiretroviral therapy, drug resistance, genotyping, affordable
Transient Expression of Proteins by Hydrodynamic Gene Delivery in Mice
Institutions: Hunter College, CUNY.
Efficient expression of transgenes in vivo
is of critical importance in studying gene function and developing treatments for diseases. Over the past years, hydrodynamic gene delivery (HGD) has emerged as a simple, fast, safe and effective method for delivering transgenes into rodents. This technique relies on the force generated by the rapid injection of a large volume of physiological solution to increase the permeability of cell membranes of perfused organs and thus deliver DNA into cells. One of the main advantages of HGD is the ability to introduce transgenes into mammalian cells using naked plasmid DNA (pDNA). Introducing an exogenous gene using a plasmid is minimally laborious, highly efficient and, contrary to viral carriers, remarkably safe. HGD was initially used to deliver genes into mice, it is now used to deliver a wide range of substances, including oligonucleotides, artificial chromosomes, RNA, proteins and small molecules into mice, rats and, to a limited degree, other animals. This protocol describes HGD in mice and focuses on three key aspects of the method that are critical to performing the procedure successfully: correct insertion of the needle into the vein, the volume of injection and the speed of delivery. Examples are given to show the application of this method to the transient expression of two genes that encode secreted, primate-specific proteins, apolipoprotein L-I (APOL-I) and haptoglobin-related protein (HPR).
Genetics, Issue 87, hydrodynamic gene delivery, hydrodynamics-based transfection, mouse, gene therapy, plasmid DNA, transient gene expression, tail vein injection
Inhibitory Synapse Formation in a Co-culture Model Incorporating GABAergic Medium Spiny Neurons and HEK293 Cells Stably Expressing GABAA Receptors
Institutions: University College London.
Inhibitory neurons act in the central nervous system to regulate the dynamics and spatio-temporal co-ordination of neuronal networks. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid) is the predominant inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is released from the presynaptic terminals of inhibitory neurons within highly specialized intercellular junctions known as synapses, where it binds to GABAA
Rs) present at the plasma membrane of the synapse-receiving, postsynaptic neurons. Activation of these GABA-gated ion channels leads to influx of chloride resulting in postsynaptic potential changes that decrease the probability that these neurons will generate action potentials.
During development, diverse types of inhibitory neurons with distinct morphological, electrophysiological and neurochemical characteristics have the ability to recognize their target neurons and form synapses which incorporate specific GABAA
Rs subtypes. This principle of selective innervation of neuronal targets raises the question as to how the appropriate synaptic partners identify each other.
To elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms, a novel in vitro
co-culture model system was established, in which medium spiny GABAergic neurons, a highly homogenous population of neurons isolated from the embryonic striatum, were cultured with stably transfected HEK293 cell lines that express different GABAA
R subtypes. Synapses form rapidly, efficiently and selectively in this system, and are easily accessible for quantification. Our results indicate that various GABAA
R subtypes differ in their ability to promote synapse formation, suggesting that this reduced in vitro
model system can be used to reproduce, at least in part, the in vivo
conditions required for the recognition of the appropriate synaptic partners and formation of specific synapses. Here the protocols for culturing the medium spiny neurons and generating HEK293 cells lines expressing GABAA
Rs are first described, followed by detailed instructions on how to combine these two cell types in co-culture and analyze the formation of synaptic contacts.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, Developmental neuroscience, synaptogenesis, synaptic inhibition, co-culture, stable cell lines, GABAergic, medium spiny neurons, HEK 293 cell line
Analysis of Tubular Membrane Networks in Cardiac Myocytes from Atria and Ventricles
Institutions: Heart Research Center Goettingen, University Medical Center Goettingen, German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) partner site Goettingen, University of Maryland School of Medicine.
In cardiac myocytes a complex network of membrane tubules - the transverse-axial tubule system (TATS) - controls deep intracellular signaling functions. While the outer surface membrane and associated TATS membrane components appear to be continuous, there are substantial differences in lipid and protein content. In ventricular myocytes (VMs), certain TATS components are highly abundant contributing to rectilinear tubule networks and regular branching 3D architectures. It is thought that peripheral TATS components propagate action potentials from the cell surface to thousands of remote intracellular sarcoendoplasmic reticulum (SER) membrane contact domains, thereby activating intracellular Ca2+
release units (CRUs). In contrast to VMs, the organization and functional role of TATS membranes in atrial myocytes (AMs) is significantly different and much less understood. Taken together, quantitative structural characterization of TATS membrane networks in healthy and diseased myocytes is an essential prerequisite towards better understanding of functional plasticity and pathophysiological reorganization. Here, we present a strategic combination of protocols for direct quantitative analysis of TATS membrane networks in living VMs and AMs. For this, we accompany primary cell isolations of mouse VMs and/or AMs with critical quality control steps and direct membrane staining protocols for fluorescence imaging of TATS membranes. Using an optimized workflow for confocal or superresolution TATS image processing, binarized and skeletonized data are generated for quantitative analysis of the TATS network and its components. Unlike previously published indirect regional aggregate image analysis strategies, our protocols enable direct characterization of specific components and derive complex physiological properties of TATS membrane networks in living myocytes with high throughput and open access software tools. In summary, the combined protocol strategy can be readily applied for quantitative TATS network studies during physiological myocyte adaptation or disease changes, comparison of different cardiac or skeletal muscle cell types, phenotyping of transgenic models, and pharmacological or therapeutic interventions.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, cardiac myocyte, atria, ventricle, heart, primary cell isolation, fluorescence microscopy, membrane tubule, transverse-axial tubule system, image analysis, image processing, T-tubule, collagenase
The ChroP Approach Combines ChIP and Mass Spectrometry to Dissect Locus-specific Proteomic Landscapes of Chromatin
Institutions: European Institute of Oncology.
Chromatin is a highly dynamic nucleoprotein complex made of DNA and proteins that controls various DNA-dependent processes. Chromatin structure and function at specific regions is regulated by the local enrichment of histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs) and variants, chromatin-binding proteins, including transcription factors, and DNA methylation. The proteomic characterization of chromatin composition at distinct functional regions has been so far hampered by the lack of efficient protocols to enrich such domains at the appropriate purity and amount for the subsequent in-depth analysis by Mass Spectrometry (MS). We describe here a newly designed chromatin proteomics strategy, named ChroP (Chromatin Proteomics
), whereby a preparative chromatin immunoprecipitation is used to isolate distinct chromatin regions whose features, in terms of hPTMs, variants and co-associated non-histonic proteins, are analyzed by MS. We illustrate here the setting up of ChroP for the enrichment and analysis of transcriptionally silent heterochromatic regions, marked by the presence of tri-methylation of lysine 9 on histone H3. The results achieved demonstrate the potential of ChroP
in thoroughly characterizing the heterochromatin proteome and prove it as a powerful analytical strategy for understanding how the distinct protein determinants of chromatin interact and synergize to establish locus-specific structural and functional configurations.
Biochemistry, Issue 86, chromatin, histone post-translational modifications (hPTMs), epigenetics, mass spectrometry, proteomics, SILAC, chromatin immunoprecipitation , histone variants, chromatome, hPTMs cross-talks
Using Fluorescent Proteins to Monitor Glycosome Dynamics in the African Trypanosome
Institutions: Clemson University Eukaryotic Pathogens Innovation Center.
is a kinetoplastid parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), or sleeping sickness, and a wasting disease, nagana, in cattle1
. The parasite alternates between the bloodstream of the mammalian host and the tsetse fly vector. The composition of many cellular organelles changes in response to these different extracellular conditions2-5
Glycosomes are highly specialized peroxisomes in which many of the enzymes involved in glycolysis are compartmentalized. Glycosome composition changes in a developmental and environmentally regulated manner4-11
. Currently, the most common techniques used to study glycosome dynamics are electron and fluorescence microscopy; techniques that are expensive, time and labor intensive, and not easily adapted to high throughput analyses.
To overcome these limitations, a fluorescent-glycosome reporter system in which enhanced yellow fluorescent protein (eYFP) is fused to a peroxisome targeting sequence (PTS2), which directs the fusion protein to glycosomes12
, has been established. Upon import of the PTS2eYFP fusion protein, glycosomes become fluorescent. Organelle degradation and recycling results in the loss of fluorescence that can be measured by flow cytometry. Large numbers of cells (5,000 cells/sec) can be analyzed in real-time without extensive sample preparation such as fixation and mounting. This method offers a rapid way of detecting changes in organelle composition in response to fluctuating environmental conditions.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 90, glycosomes, trypanosomes, flow cytometry, kinetoplastids, fluorescent protein, peroxisomes
Use of Interferon-γ Enzyme-linked Immunospot Assay to Characterize Novel T-cell Epitopes of Human Papillomavirus
Institutions: China Medical University , University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences , University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences .
A protocol has been developed to overcome the difficulties of isolating and characterizing rare T cells specific for pathogens, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), that cause localized infections. The steps involved are identifying region(s) of HPV proteins that contain T-cell epitope(s) from a subject, selecting for the peptide-specific T cells based on interferon-γ (IFN-γ) secretion, and growing and characterizing the T-cell clones (Fig. 1
). Subject 1 was a patient who was recently diagnosed with a high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesion by biopsy and underwent loop electrical excision procedure for treatment on the day the T cells were collected1
. A region within the human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV 16) E6 and E7 proteins which contained a T-cell epitope was identified using an IFN- g enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assay performed with overlapping synthetic peptides (Fig. 2
). The data from this assay were used not only to identify a region containing a T-cell epitope, but also to estimate the number of epitope specific T cells and to isolate them on the basis of IFN- γ secretion using commercially available magnetic beads (CD8 T-cell isolation kit, Miltenyi Biotec, Auburn CA). The selected IFN-γ secreting T cells were diluted and grown singly in the presence of an irradiated feeder cell mixture in order to support the growth of a single T-cell per well. These T-cell clones were screened using an IFN- γ ELISPOT assay in the presence of peptides covering the identified region and autologous Epstein-Barr virus transformed B-lymphoblastoid cells (LCLs, obtained how described by Walls and Crawford)2
in order to minimize the number of T-cell clone cells needed. Instead of using 1 x 105
cells per well typically used in ELISPOT assays1,3
, 1,000 T-cell clone cells in the presence of 1 x 105
autologous LCLs were used, dramatically reducing the number of T-cell clone cells needed. The autologous LCLs served not only to present peptide antigens to the T-cell clone cells, but also to keep a high cell density in the wells allowing the epitope-specific T-cell clone cells to secrete IFN-γ. This assures successful performance of IFN-γ ELISPOT assay. Similarly, IFN- γ ELISPOT assays were utilized to characterize the minimal and optimal amino acid sequence of the CD8 T-cell epitope (HPV 16 E6 52-61 FAFRDLCIVY) and its HLA class I restriction element (B58). The IFN- γ ELISPOT assay was also performed using autologous LCLs infected with vaccinia virus expressing HPV 16 E6 or E7 protein. The result demonstrated that the E6 T-cell epitope was endogenously processed. The cross-recognition of homologous T-cell epitope of other high-risk HPV types was shown. This method can also be used to describe CD4 T-cell epitopes4
Immunology, Issue 61, Interferon-γ enzyme-linked immunospot assay, T-cell, epitope, human papillomavirus
Unraveling the Unseen Players in the Ocean - A Field Guide to Water Chemistry and Marine Microbiology
Institutions: San Diego State University, University of California San Diego.
Here we introduce a series of thoroughly tested and well standardized research protocols adapted for use in remote marine environments. The sampling protocols include the assessment of resources available to the microbial community (dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, inorganic nutrients), and a comprehensive description of the viral and bacterial communities (via direct viral and microbial counts, enumeration of autofluorescent microbes, and construction of viral and microbial metagenomes). We use a combination of methods, which represent a dispersed field of scientific disciplines comprising already established protocols and some of the most recent techniques developed. Especially metagenomic sequencing techniques used for viral and bacterial community characterization, have been established only in recent years, and are thus still subjected to constant improvement. This has led to a variety of sampling and sample processing procedures currently in use. The set of methods presented here provides an up to date approach to collect and process environmental samples. Parameters addressed with these protocols yield the minimum on information essential to characterize and understand the underlying mechanisms of viral and microbial community dynamics. It gives easy to follow guidelines to conduct comprehensive surveys and discusses critical steps and potential caveats pertinent to each technique.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, dissolved organic carbon, particulate organic matter, nutrients, DAPI, SYBR, microbial metagenomics, viral metagenomics, marine environment
A Proboscis Extension Response Protocol for Investigating Behavioral Plasticity in Insects: Application to Basic, Biomedical, and Agricultural Research
Institutions: Arizona State University.
Insects modify their responses to stimuli through experience of associating those stimuli with events important for survival (e.g.
, food, mates, threats). There are several behavioral mechanisms through which an insect learns salient associations and relates them to these events. It is important to understand this behavioral plasticity for programs aimed toward assisting insects that are beneficial for agriculture. This understanding can also be used for discovering solutions to biomedical and agricultural problems created by insects that act as disease vectors and pests. The Proboscis Extension Response (PER) conditioning protocol was developed for honey bees (Apis mellifera
) over 50 years ago to study how they perceive and learn about floral odors, which signal the nectar and pollen resources a colony needs for survival. The PER procedure provides a robust and easy-to-employ framework for studying several different ecologically relevant mechanisms of behavioral plasticity. It is easily adaptable for use with several other insect species and other behavioral reflexes. These protocols can be readily employed in conjunction with various means for monitoring neural activity in the CNS via electrophysiology or bioimaging, or for manipulating targeted neuromodulatory pathways. It is a robust assay for rapidly detecting sub-lethal effects on behavior caused by environmental stressors, toxins or pesticides.
We show how the PER protocol is straightforward to implement using two procedures. One is suitable as a laboratory exercise for students or for quick assays of the effect of an experimental treatment. The other provides more thorough control of variables, which is important for studies of behavioral conditioning. We show how several measures for the behavioral response ranging from binary yes/no to more continuous variable like latency and duration of proboscis extension can be used to test hypotheses. And, we discuss some pitfalls that researchers commonly encounter when they use the procedure for the first time.
Neuroscience, Issue 91, PER, conditioning, honey bee, olfaction, olfactory processing, learning, memory, toxin assay
Computer-assisted Large-scale Visualization and Quantification of Pancreatic Islet Mass, Size Distribution and Architecture
Institutions: University of Chicago, National Institutes of Health, University of Chicago, University of Massachusetts.
The pancreatic islet is a unique micro-organ composed of several hormone secreting endocrine cells such as beta-cells (insulin), alpha-cells (glucagon), and delta-cells (somatostatin) that are embedded in the exocrine tissues and comprise 1-2% of the entire pancreas. There is a close correlation between body and pancreas weight. Total beta-cell mass also increases proportionately to compensate for the demand for insulin in the body. What escapes this proportionate expansion is the size distribution of islets. Large animals such as humans share similar islet size distributions with mice, suggesting that this micro-organ has a certain size limit to be functional. The inability of large animal pancreata to generate proportionately larger islets is compensated for by an increase in the number of islets and by an increase in the proportion of larger islets in their overall islet size distribution. Furthermore, islets exhibit a striking plasticity in cellular composition and architecture among different species and also within the same species under various pathophysiological conditions. In the present study, we describe novel approaches for the analysis of biological image data in order to facilitate the automation of analytic processes, which allow for the analysis of large and heterogeneous data collections in the study of such dynamic biological processes and complex structures. Such studies have been hampered due to technical difficulties of unbiased sampling and generating large-scale data sets to precisely capture the complexity of biological processes of islet biology. Here we show methods to collect unbiased "representative" data within the limited availability of samples (or to minimize the sample collection) and the standard experimental settings, and to precisely analyze the complex three-dimensional structure of the islet. Computer-assisted automation allows for the collection and analysis of large-scale data sets and also assures unbiased interpretation of the data. Furthermore, the precise quantification of islet size distribution and spatial coordinates (i.e. X, Y, Z-positions) not only leads to an accurate visualization of pancreatic islet structure and composition, but also allows us to identify patterns during development and adaptation to altering conditions through mathematical modeling. The methods developed in this study are applicable to studies of many other systems and organisms as well.
Cellular Biology, Issue 49, beta-cells, islets, large-scale analysis, pancreas
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
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
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
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Physical, Chemical and Biological Characterization of Six Biochars Produced for the Remediation of Contaminated Sites
Institutions: Royal Military College of Canada, Queen's University.
The physical and chemical properties of biochar vary based on feedstock sources and production conditions, making it possible to engineer biochars with specific functions (e.g.
carbon sequestration, soil quality improvements, or contaminant sorption). In 2013, the International Biochar Initiative (IBI) made publically available their Standardized Product Definition and Product Testing Guidelines (Version 1.1) which set standards for physical and chemical characteristics for biochar. Six biochars made from three different feedstocks and at two temperatures were analyzed for characteristics related to their use as a soil amendment. The protocol describes analyses of the feedstocks and biochars and includes: cation exchange capacity (CEC), specific surface area (SSA), organic carbon (OC) and moisture percentage, pH, particle size distribution, and proximate and ultimate analysis. Also described in the protocol are the analyses of the feedstocks and biochars for contaminants including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals and mercury as well as nutrients (phosphorous, nitrite and nitrate and ammonium as nitrogen). The protocol also includes the biological testing procedures, earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on the quality assurance / quality control (QA/QC) results of blanks, duplicates, standards and reference materials, all methods were determined adequate for use with biochar and feedstock materials. All biochars and feedstocks were well within the criterion set by the IBI and there were little differences among biochars, except in the case of the biochar produced from construction waste materials. This biochar (referred to as Old biochar) was determined to have elevated levels of arsenic, chromium, copper, and lead, and failed the earthworm avoidance and germination assays. Based on these results, Old biochar would not be appropriate for use as a soil amendment for carbon sequestration, substrate quality improvements or remediation.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 93, biochar, characterization, carbon sequestration, remediation, International Biochar Initiative (IBI), soil amendment
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
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
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
Experimental Manipulation of Body Size to Estimate Morphological Scaling Relationships in Drosophila
Institutions: University of Houston, Michigan State University.
The scaling of body parts is a central feature of animal morphology1-7
. Within species, morphological traits need to be correctly proportioned to the body for the organism to function; larger individuals typically have larger body parts and smaller individuals generally have smaller body parts, such that overall body shape is maintained across a range of adult body sizes. The requirement for correct proportions means that individuals within species usually exhibit low variation in relative trait size. In contrast, relative trait size can vary dramatically among species and is a primary mechanism by which morphological diversity is produced. Over a century of comparative work has established these intra- and interspecific patterns3,4
Perhaps the most widely used approach to describe this variation is to calculate the scaling relationship between the size of two morphological traits using the allometric equation y=bxα, where x and y are the size of the two traits, such as organ and body size8,9
. This equation describes the within-group (e.g., species, population) scaling relationship between two traits as both vary in size. Log-transformation of this equation produces a simple linear equation, log(y) = log(b) + αlog(x) and log-log plots of the size of different traits among individuals of the same species typically reveal linear scaling with an intercept of log(b) and a slope of α, called the 'allometric coefficient'9,10
. Morphological variation among groups is described by differences in scaling relationship intercepts or slopes for a given trait pair. Consequently, variation in the parameters of the allometric equation (b and α) elegantly describes the shape variation captured in the relationship between organ and body size within and among biological groups (see 11,12
Not all traits scale linearly with each other or with body size (e.g., 13,14
) Hence, morphological scaling relationships are most informative when the data are taken from the full range of trait sizes. Here we describe how simple experimental manipulation of diet can be used to produce the full range of body size in insects. This permits an estimation of the full scaling relationship for any given pair of traits, allowing a complete description of how shape covaries with size and a robust comparison of scaling relationship parameters among biological groups. Although we focus on Drosophila
, our methodology should be applicable to nearly any fully metamorphic insect.
Developmental Biology, Issue 56, Drosophila, allometry, morphology, body size, scaling, insect
An Inverse Analysis Approach to the Characterization of Chemical Transport in Paints
Institutions: U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, OptiMetrics, Inc., a DCS Company.
The ability to directly characterize chemical transport and interactions that occur within a material (i.e.
, subsurface dynamics) is a vital component in understanding contaminant mass transport and the ability to decontaminate materials. If a material is contaminated, over time, the transport of highly toxic chemicals (such as chemical warfare agent species) out of the material can result in vapor exposure or transfer to the skin, which can result in percutaneous exposure to personnel who interact with the material. Due to the high toxicity of chemical warfare agents, the release of trace chemical quantities is of significant concern. Mapping subsurface concentration distribution and transport characteristics of absorbed agents enables exposure hazards to be assessed in untested conditions. Furthermore, these tools can be used to characterize subsurface reaction dynamics to ultimately design improved decontaminants or decontamination procedures. To achieve this goal, an inverse analysis mass transport modeling approach was developed that utilizes time-resolved mass spectroscopy measurements of vapor emission from contaminated paint coatings as the input parameter for calculation of subsurface concentration profiles. Details are provided on sample preparation, including contaminant and material handling, the application of mass spectrometry for the measurement of emitted contaminant vapor, and the implementation of inverse analysis using a physics-based diffusion model to determine transport properties of live chemical warfare agents including distilled mustard (HD) and the nerve agent VX.
Chemistry, Issue 90, Vacuum, vapor emission, chemical warfare agent, contamination, mass transport, inverse analysis, volatile organic compound, paint, coating
Linking Predation Risk, Herbivore Physiological Stress and Microbial Decomposition of Plant Litter
Institutions: Yale University, Virginia Tech, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The quantity and quality of detritus entering the soil determines the rate of decomposition by microbial communities as well as recycle rates of nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) sequestration1,2
. Plant litter comprises the majority of detritus3
, and so it is assumed that decomposition is only marginally influenced by biomass inputs from animals such as herbivores and carnivores4,5
. However, carnivores may influence microbial decomposition of plant litter via a chain of interactions in which predation risk alters the physiology of their herbivore prey that in turn alters soil microbial functioning when the herbivore carcasses are decomposed6
. A physiological stress response by herbivores to the risk of predation can change the C:N elemental composition of herbivore biomass7,8,9
because stress from predation risk increases herbivore basal energy demands that in nutrient-limited systems forces herbivores to shift their consumption from N-rich resources to support growth and reproduction to C-rich carbohydrate resources to support heightened metabolism6
. Herbivores have limited ability to store excess nutrients, so stressed herbivores excrete N as they increase carbohydrate-C consumption7
. Ultimately, prey stressed by predation risk increase their body C:N ratio7,10
, making them poorer quality resources for the soil microbial pool likely due to lower availability of labile N for microbial enzyme production6
. Thus, decomposition of carcasses of stressed herbivores has a priming effect on the functioning of microbial communities that decreases subsequent ability to of microbes to decompose plant litter6,10,11
We present the methodology to evaluate linkages between predation risk and litter decomposition by soil microbes. We describe how to: induce stress in herbivores from predation risk; measure those stress responses, and measure the consequences on microbial decomposition. We use insights from a model grassland ecosystem comprising the hunting spider predator (Pisuarina mira
), a dominant grasshopper herbivore (Melanoplus femurrubrum
),and a variety of grass and forb plants9
Environmental Sciences, Issue 73, Microbiology, Plant Biology, Entomology, Organisms, Investigative Techniques, Biological Phenomena, Chemical Phenomena, Metabolic Phenomena, Microbiological Phenomena, Earth Resources and Remote Sensing, Life Sciences (General), Litter Decomposition, Ecological Stoichiometry, Physiological Stress and Ecosystem Function, Predation Risk, Soil Respiration, Carbon Sequestration, Soil Science, respiration, spider, grasshoper, model system
Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1
and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2
. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4
. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior.
We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers.
The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making