Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
The Tail Suspension Test
Institutions: University of Maryland School of Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine, University of Maryland , University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The tail-suspension test is a mouse behavioral test useful in the screening of potential antidepressant drugs, and assessing of other manipulations that are expected to affect depression related behaviors. Mice are suspended by their tails with tape, in such a position that it cannot escape or hold on to nearby surfaces. During this test, typically six minutes in duration, the resulting escape oriented behaviors are quantified. The tail-suspension test is a valuable tool in drug discovery for high-throughput screening of prospective antidepressant compounds. Here, we describe the details required for implementation of this test with additional emphasis on potential problems that may occur and how to avoid them. We also offer a solution to the tail climbing behavior, a common problem that renders this test useless in some mouse strains, such as the widely used C57BL/6. Specifically, we prevent tail climbing behaviors by passing mouse tails through a small plastic cylinder prior to suspension. Finally, we detail how to manually score the behaviors that are manifested in this test.
Neuroscience, Issue 59, animal models, behavioral analysis, neuroscience, neurobiology, mood disorder, depression, mood stabilizer, antidepressant
The NeuroStar TMS Device: Conducting the FDA Approved Protocol for Treatment of Depression
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Inc..
The Neuronetics NeuroStar Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) System is a class II medical device that produces brief duration, pulsed magnetic fields. These rapidly alternating fields induce electrical currents within localized, targeted regions of the cortex which are associated with various physiological and functional brain changes.1,2,3
In 2007, O'Reardon et al.
, utilizing the NeuroStar device, published the results of an industry-sponsored, multisite, randomized, sham-stimulation controlled clinical trial in which 301 patients with major depression, who had previously failed to respond to at least one adequate antidepressant treatment trial, underwent either active or sham TMS over the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The patients, who were medication-free at the time of the study, received TMS five times per week over 4-6 weeks.4
The results demonstrated that a sub-population of patients (those who were relatively less resistant to medication, having failed not more than two good pharmacologic trials) showed a statistically significant improvement on the Montgomery-Asberg Depression Scale (MADRS), the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD), and various other outcome measures. In October 2008, supported by these and other similar results5,6,7
, Neuronetics obtained the first and only Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for the clinical treatment of a specific form of medication-refractory depression using a TMS Therapy device (FDA approval K061053).
In this paper, we will explore the specified FDA approved NeuroStar depression treatment protocol (to be administered only under prescription and by a licensed medical profession in either an in- or outpatient setting).
Neuroscience, Issue 45, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Depression, Neuronetics, NeuroStar, FDA Approved
Sex Stratified Neuronal Cultures to Study Ischemic Cell Death Pathways
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Sex differences in neuronal susceptibility to ischemic injury and neurodegenerative disease have long been observed, but the signaling mechanisms responsible for those differences remain unclear. Primary disassociated embryonic neuronal culture provides a simplified experimental model with which to investigate the neuronal cell signaling involved in cell death as a result of ischemia or disease; however, most neuronal cultures used in research today are mixed sex. Researchers can and do test the effects of sex steroid treatment in mixed sex neuronal cultures in models of neuronal injury and disease, but accumulating evidence suggests that the female brain responds to androgens, estrogens, and progesterone differently than the male brain. Furthermore, neonate male and female rodents respond differently to ischemic injury, with males experiencing greater injury following cerebral ischemia than females. Thus, mixed sex neuronal cultures might obscure and confound the experimental results; important information might be missed. For this reason, the Herson Lab at the University of Colorado School of Medicine routinely prepares sex-stratified primary disassociated embryonic neuronal cultures from both hippocampus and cortex. Embryos are sexed before harvesting of brain tissue and male and female tissue are disassociated separately, plated separately, and maintained separately. Using this method, the Herson Lab has demonstrated a male-specific role for the ion channel TRPM2 in ischemic cell death. In this manuscript, we share and discuss our protocol for sexing embryonic mice and preparing sex-stratified hippocampal primary disassociated neuron cultures. This method can be adapted to prepare sex-stratified cortical cultures and the method for embryo sexing can be used in conjunction with other protocols for any study in which sex is thought to be an important determinant of outcome.
Neuroscience, Issue 82, male, female, sex, neuronal culture, ischemia, cell death, neuroprotection
Contextual and Cued Fear Conditioning Test Using a Video Analyzing System in Mice
Institutions: Fujita Health University, Core Research for Evolutionary Science and Technology (CREST), National Institutes of Natural Sciences.
The contextual and cued fear conditioning test is one of the behavioral tests that assesses the ability of mice to learn and remember an association between environmental cues and aversive experiences. In this test, mice are placed into a conditioning chamber and are given parings of a conditioned stimulus (an auditory cue) and an aversive unconditioned stimulus (an electric footshock). After a delay time, the mice are exposed to the same conditioning chamber and a differently shaped chamber with presentation of the auditory cue. Freezing behavior during the test is measured as an index of fear memory. To analyze the behavior automatically, we have developed a video analyzing system using the ImageFZ application software program, which is available as a free download at https://www.mouse-phenotype.org/. Here, to show the details of our protocol, we demonstrate our procedure for the contextual and cued fear conditioning test in C57BL/6J mice using the ImageFZ system. In addition, we validated our protocol and the video analyzing system performance by comparing freezing time measured by the ImageFZ system or a photobeam-based computer measurement system with that scored by a human observer. As shown in our representative results, the data obtained by ImageFZ were similar to those analyzed by a human observer, indicating that the behavioral analysis using the ImageFZ system is highly reliable. The present movie article provides detailed information regarding the test procedures and will promote understanding of the experimental situation.
Behavior, Issue 85, Fear, Learning, Memory, ImageFZ program, Mouse, contextual fear, cued fear
Assessment of Morphine-induced Hyperalgesia and Analgesic Tolerance in Mice Using Thermal and Mechanical Nociceptive Modalities
Institutions: Université de Strasbourg.
Opioid-induced hyperalgesia and tolerance severely impact the clinical efficacy of opiates as pain relievers in animals and humans. The molecular mechanisms underlying both phenomena are not well understood and their elucidation should benefit from the study of animal models and from the design of appropriate experimental protocols.
We describe here a methodological approach for inducing, recording and quantifying morphine-induced hyperalgesia as well as for evidencing analgesic tolerance, using the tail-immersion and tail pressure tests in wild-type mice. As shown in the video, the protocol is divided into five sequential steps. Handling and habituation phases allow a safe determination of the basal nociceptive response of the animals. Chronic morphine administration induces significant hyperalgesia as shown by an increase in both thermal and mechanical sensitivity, whereas the comparison of analgesia time-courses after acute or repeated morphine treatment clearly indicates the development of tolerance manifested by a decline in analgesic response amplitude. This protocol may be similarly adapted to genetically modified mice in order to evaluate the role of individual genes in the modulation of nociception and morphine analgesia. It also provides a model system to investigate the effectiveness of potential therapeutic agents to improve opiate analgesic efficacy.
Neuroscience, Issue 89, mice, nociception, tail immersion test, tail pressure test, morphine, analgesia, opioid-induced hyperalgesia, tolerance
The Mouse Forced Swim Test
Institutions: University of Maryland School of Medicine, Tulane University School of Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, University of Maryland .
The forced swim test is a rodent behavioral test used for evaluation of antidepressant drugs, antidepressant efficacy of new compounds, and experimental manipulations that are aimed at rendering or preventing depressive-like states. Mice are placed in an inescapable transparent tank that is filled with water and their escape related mobility behavior is measured. The forced swim test is straightforward to conduct reliably and it requires minimal specialized equipment. Successful implementation of the forced swim test requires adherence to certain procedural details and minimization of unwarranted stress to the mice. In the protocol description and the accompanying video, we explain how to conduct the mouse version of this test with emphasis on potential pitfalls that may be detrimental to interpretation of results and how to avoid them. Additionally, we explain how the behaviors manifested in the test are assessed.
Neuroscience, Issue 59, animal models, behavioral analysis, neuroscience, neurobiology, mood disorder, depression, mood stabilizer, antidepressant, forced swimming test, FST
Differentiating Functional Roles of Gene Expression from Immune and Non-immune Cells in Mouse Colitis by Bone Marrow Transplantation
Institutions: The University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles.
To understand the role of a gene in the development of colitis, we compared the responses of wild-type mice and gene-of-interest deficient knockout mice to colitis. If the gene-of-interest is expressed in both bone marrow derived cells and non-bone marrow derived cells of the host; however, it is possible to differentiate the role of a gene of interest in bone marrow derived cells and non- bone marrow derived cells by bone marrow transplantation technique. To change the bone marrow derived cell genotype of mice, the original bone marrow of recipient mice were destroyed by irradiation and then replaced by new donor bone marrow of different genotype. When wild-type mice donor bone marrow was transplanted to knockout mice, we could generate knockout mice with wild-type gene expression in bone marrow derived cells. Alternatively, when knockout mice donor bone marrow was transplanted to wild-type recipient mice, wild-type mice without gene-of-interest expressing from bone marrow derived cells were produced. However, bone marrow transplantation may not be 100% complete. Therefore, we utilized cluster of differentiation (CD) molecules (CD45.1 and CD45.2) as markers of donor and recipient cells to track the proportion of donor bone marrow derived cells in recipient mice and success of bone marrow transplantation. Wild-type mice with CD45.1 genotype and knockout mice with CD45.2 genotype were used. After irradiation of recipient mice, the donor bone marrow cells of different genotypes were infused into the recipient mice. When the new bone marrow regenerated to take over its immunity, the mice were challenged by chemical agent (dextran sodium sulfate, DSS 5%) to induce colitis. Here we also showed the method to induce colitis in mice and evaluate the role of the gene of interest expressed from bone-marrow derived cells. If the gene-of-interest from the bone derived cells plays an important role in the development of the disease (such as colitis), the phenotype of the recipient mice with bone marrow transplantation can be significantly altered. At the end of colitis experiments, the bone marrow derived cells in blood and bone marrow were labeled with antibodies against CD45.1 and CD45.2 and their quantitative ratio of existence could be used to evaluate the success of bone marrow transplantation by flow cytometry. Successful bone marrow transplantation should show a vast majority of donor genotype (in term of CD molecule marker) over recipient genotype in both the bone marrow and blood of recipient mice.
Immunology, Issue 68, Genetics, Cellular Biology, Physiology, Bone marrow transplantation, colitis, mice, irradiation
Trace Fear Conditioning in Mice
Institutions: Baylor University, Baylor University.
In this experiment we present a technique to measure learning and memory. In the trace fear conditioning protocol presented here there are five pairings between a neutral stimulus and an unconditioned stimulus. There is a 20 sec trace period that separates each conditioning trial. On the following day freezing is measured during presentation of the conditioned stimulus (CS) and trace period. On the third day there is an 8 min test to measure contextual memory. The representative results are from mice that were presented with the aversive unconditioned stimulus (shock) compared to mice that received the tone presentations without the unconditioned stimulus. Trace fear conditioning has been successfully used to detect subtle learning and memory deficits and enhancements in mice that are not found with other fear conditioning methods. This type of fear conditioning is believed to be dependent upon connections between the medial prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. One current controversy is whether this method is believed to be amygdala-independent. Therefore, other fear conditioning testing is needed to examine amygdala-dependent learning and memory effects, such as through the delay fear conditioning.
Behavior, Issue 85, fear conditioning, learning, trace conditioning, memory, conditioned and unconditioned stimulus, neutral stimulus, amygdala-dependent learning
Assessment of Social Interaction Behaviors
Institutions: Mount Sinai Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Social interactions are a fundamental and adaptive component of the biology of numerous species. Social recognition is critical for the structure and stability of the networks and relationships that define societies. For animals, such as mice, recognition of conspecifics may be important for maintaining social hierarchy and for mate choice 1
A variety of neuropsychiatric disorders are characterized by disruptions in social behavior and social recognition, including depression, autism spectrum disorders, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and schizophrenia. Studies of humans as well as animal models (e.g., Drosophila melanogaster
, Caenorhabditis elegans
, Mus musculus
, Rattus norvegicus
) have identified genes involved in the regulation of social behavior 2
. To assess sociability in animal models, several behavioral tests have been developed (reviewed in 3
). Integrative research using animal models and appropriate tests for social behavior may lead to the development of improved treatments for social psychopathologies.
The three-chamber paradigm test known as Crawley's sociability and preference for social novelty protocol has been successfully employed to study social affiliation and social memory in several inbred and mutant mouse lines (e.g. 4-7
). The main principle of this test is based on the free choice by a subject mouse to spend time in any of three box's compartments during two experimental sessions, including indirect contact with one or two mice with which it is unfamiliar. To quantitate social tendencies of the experimental mouse, the main tasks are to measure a) the time spent with a novel conspecific and b) preference for a novel vs. a familiar conspecific. Thus, the experimental design of this test allows evaluation of two critical but distinguishable aspects of social behavior, such as social affiliation/motivation, as well as social memory and novelty. "Sociability" in this case is defined as propensity to spend time with another mouse, as compared to time spent alone in an identical but empty chamber 7
. "Preference for social novelty" is defined as propensity to spend time with a previously unencountered mouse rather than with a familiar mouse 7
. This test provides robust results, which then must be carefully analyzed, interpreted and supported/confirmed by alternative sociability tests. In addition to specific applications, Crawley's sociability test can be included as an important component of general behavioral screen of mutant mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 48, Mice, behavioral test, phenotyping, social interaction
The Use of Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy as a Tool for the Measurement of Bi-hemispheric Transcranial Electric Stimulation Effects on Primary Motor Cortex Metabolism
Institutions: University of Montréal, McGill University, University of Minnesota.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a neuromodulation technique that has been increasingly used over the past decade in the treatment of neurological and psychiatric disorders such as stroke and depression. Yet, the mechanisms underlying its ability to modulate brain excitability to improve clinical symptoms remains poorly understood 33
. To help improve this understanding, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1
H-MRS) can be used as it allows the in vivo
quantification of brain metabolites such as γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate in a region-specific manner 41
. In fact, a recent study demonstrated that 1
H-MRS is indeed a powerful means to better understand the effects of tDCS on neurotransmitter concentration 34
. This article aims to describe the complete protocol for combining tDCS (NeuroConn MR compatible stimulator) with 1
H-MRS at 3 T using a MEGA-PRESS sequence. We will describe the impact of a protocol that has shown great promise for the treatment of motor dysfunctions after stroke, which consists of bilateral stimulation of primary motor cortices 27,30,31
. Methodological factors to consider and possible modifications to the protocol are also discussed.
Neuroscience, Issue 93, proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, transcranial direct current stimulation, primary motor cortex, GABA, glutamate, stroke
Biomarkers in an Animal Model for Revealing Neural, Hematologic, and Behavioral Correlates of PTSD
Institutions: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland, GenProMarkers, Inc..
Identification of biomarkers representing the evolution of the pathophysiology of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is vitally important, not only for objective diagnosis but also for the evaluation of therapeutic efficacy and resilience to trauma. Ongoing research is directed at identifying molecular biomarkers for PTSD, including traumatic stress induced proteins, transcriptomes, genomic variances and genetic modulators, using biologic samples from subjects' blood, saliva, urine, and postmortem brain tissues. However, the correlation of these biomarker molecules in peripheral or postmortem samples to altered brain functions associated with psychiatric symptoms in PTSD remains unresolved. Here, we present an animal model of PTSD in which both peripheral blood and central brain biomarkers, as well as behavioral phenotype, can be collected and measured, thus providing the needed correlation of the central biomarkers of PTSD, which are mechanistic and pathognomonic but cannot be collected from people, with the peripheral biomarkers and behavioral phenotypes, which can.
Our animal model of PTSD employs restraint and tail shocks repeated for three continuous days - the inescapable tail-shock model (ITS) in rats. This ITS model mimics the pathophysiology of PTSD 17, 7, 4, 10
. We and others have verified that the ITS model induces behavioral and neurobiological alterations similar to those found in PTSD subjects 17, 7, 10, 9
. Specifically, these stressed rats exhibit (1) a delayed and exaggerated startle response appearing several days after stressor cessation, which given the compressed time scale of the rat's life compared to a humans, corresponds to the one to three months delay of symptoms in PTSD patients (DSM-IV-TR PTSD Criterian D/E 13
), (2) enhanced plasma corticosterone (CORT) for several days, indicating compromise of the hypothalamopituitary axis (HPA), and (3) retarded body weight gain after stressor cessation, indicating dysfunction of metabolic regulation.
The experimental paradigms employed for this model are: (1) a learned helplessness paradigm in the rat assayed by measurement of acoustic startle response (ASR) and a charting of body mass; (2) microdissection of the rat brain into regions and nuclei; (3) enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for blood levels of CORT; (4) a gene expression microarray plus related bioinformatics tools 18
. This microarray, dubbed rMNChip, focuses on mitochondrial and mitochondria-related nuclear genes in the rat so as to specifically address the neuronal bioenergetics hypothesized to be involved in PTSD.
Medicine, Issue 68, Genetics, Physiology, Neuroscience, Immunology, PTSD, biomarker, stress, fear, startle, corticosterone, animal model, RNA, RT-PCR, gene chip, cDNA microarray, oligonucleotide microarray, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, cingulate cortex, hypothalamus, white blood cell
P50 Sensory Gating in Infants
Institutions: University of Colorado School of Medicine, Colorado State University.
Attentional deficits are common in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders including attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, autism, bipolar mood disorder, and schizophrenia. There has been increasing interest in the neurodevelopmental components of these attentional deficits; neurodevelopmental meaning that while the deficits become clinically prominent in childhood or adulthood, the deficits are the results of problems in brain development that begin in infancy or even prenatally. Despite this interest, there are few methods for assessing attention very early in infancy. This report focuses on one method, infant auditory P50 sensory gating.
Attention has several components. One of the earliest components of attention, termed sensory gating, allows the brain to tune out repetitive, noninformative sensory information. Auditory P50 sensory gating refers to one task designed to measure sensory gating using changes in EEG. When identical auditory stimuli are presented 500 ms apart, the evoked response (change in the EEG associated with the processing of the click) to the second stimulus is generally reduced relative to the response to the first stimulus (i.e.
the response is "gated"). When response to the second stimulus is not reduced, this is considered a poor sensory gating, is reflective of impaired cerebral inhibition, and is correlated with attentional deficits.
Because the auditory P50 sensory gating task is passive, it is of potential utility in the study of young infants and may provide a window into the developmental time course of attentional deficits in a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders. The goal of this presentation is to describe the methodology for assessing infant auditory P50 sensory gating, a methodology adapted from those used in studies of adult populations.
Behavior, Issue 82, Child Development, Psychophysiology, Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders, Evoked Potentials, Auditory, auditory evoked potential, sensory gating, infant, attention, electrophysiology, infants, sensory gating, endophenotype, attention, P50
Olfactory Neurons Obtained through Nasal Biopsy Combined with Laser-Capture Microdissection: A Potential Approach to Study Treatment Response in Mental Disorders
Institutions: Johns Hopkins University, Howard University, Johns Hopkins University, Sheppard Pratt Hospital, Indiana University.
Bipolar disorder (BD) is a severe neuropsychiatric disorder with poorly understood pathophysiology and typically treated with the mood stabilizer, lithium carbonate. Animal studies as well as human genetic studies indicate that lithium affects molecular targets that are involved in neuronal growth, survival and maturation, and notably molecules involved in Wnt signaling. Given the ethical challenge to obtaining brain biopsies for investigating dynamic molecular changes associated with lithium-response in the central nervous system (CNS), one may consider the use of neurons obtained from olfactory tissues to achieve this goal.The olfactory epithelium contains olfactory receptor neurons at different stages of development and glial-like supporting cells. This provides a unique opportunity to study dynamic changes in the CNS of patients with neuropsychiatric diseases, using olfactory tissue safely obtained from nasal biopsies. To overcome the drawback posed by substantial contamination of biopsied olfactory tissue with non-neuronal cells, a novel approach to obtain enriched neuronal cell populations was developed by combining nasal biopsies with laser-capture microdissection. In this study, a system for investigating treatment-associated dynamic molecular changes in neuronal tissue was developed and validated, using a small pilot sample of BD patients recruited for the study of the molecular mechanisms of lithium treatment response.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, bipolar disorder, lithium therapy, nasal biopsy, olfactory epithelium, laser-capture microdissection, real-time PCR, GSK-3β
Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Institutions: Alpert Medical School, Brown University, University of Georgia.
Complementary structural and functional neuroimaging techniques used to examine the Default Mode Network (DMN) could potentially improve assessments of psychiatric illness severity and provide added validity to the clinical diagnostic process. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that DMN processes may be disrupted in a number of stress-related psychiatric illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although specific DMN functions remain under investigation, it is generally thought to be involved in introspection and self-processing. In healthy individuals it exhibits greatest activity during periods of rest, with less activity, observed as deactivation, during cognitive tasks, e.g.
, working memory. This network consists of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, lateral parietal cortices and medial temporal regions.
Multiple functional and structural imaging approaches have been developed to study the DMN. These have unprecedented potential to further the understanding of the function and dysfunction of this network. Functional approaches, such as the evaluation of resting state connectivity and task-induced deactivation, have excellent potential to identify targeted neurocognitive and neuroaffective (functional) diagnostic markers and may indicate illness severity and prognosis with increased accuracy or specificity. Structural approaches, such as evaluation of morphometry and connectivity, may provide unique markers of etiology and long-term outcomes. Combined, functional and structural methods provide strong multimodal, complementary and synergistic approaches to develop valid DMN-based imaging phenotypes in stress-related psychiatric conditions. This protocol aims to integrate these methods to investigate DMN structure and function in PTSD, relating findings to illness severity and relevant clinical factors.
Medicine, Issue 89, default mode network, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, structural connectivity, functional connectivity, posttraumatic stress disorder
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
Handwriting Analysis Indicates Spontaneous Dyskinesias in Neuroleptic Naïve Adolescents at High Risk for Psychosis
Institutions: University of Colorado Boulder, NeuroScript LLC, University of California, San Diego.
Growing evidence suggests that movement abnormalities are a core feature of psychosis. One marker of movement abnormality, dyskinesia, is a result of impaired neuromodulation of dopamine in fronto-striatal pathways. The traditional methods for identifying movement abnormalities include observer-based reports and force stability gauges. The drawbacks of these methods are long training times for raters, experimenter bias, large site differences in instrumental apparatus, and suboptimal reliability. Taking these drawbacks into account has guided the development of better standardized and more efficient procedures to examine movement abnormalities through handwriting analysis software and tablet. Individuals at risk for psychosis showed significantly more dysfluent pen movements (a proximal measure for dyskinesia) in a handwriting task. Handwriting kinematics offers a great advance over previous methods of assessing dyskinesia, which could clearly be beneficial for understanding the etiology of psychosis.
Behavior, Issue 81, Schizophrenia, Disorders with Psychotic Features, Psychology, Clinical, Psychopathology, behavioral sciences, Movement abnormalities, Ultra High Risk, psychosis, handwriting, computer tablet, dyskinesia
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
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
Interview: Protein Folding and Studies of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
In this interview, Dr. Lindquist describes relationships between protein folding, prion diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. The problem of the protein folding is at the core of the modern biology. In addition to their traditional biochemical functions, proteins can mediate transfer of biological information and therefore can be considered a genetic material. This recently discovered function of proteins has important implications for studies of human disorders. Dr. Lindquist also describes current experimental approaches to investigate the mechanism of neurodegenerative diseases based on genetic studies in model organisms.
Neuroscience, issue 17, protein folding, brain, neuron, prion, neurodegenerative disease, yeast, screen, Translational Research
A Strategy to Identify de Novo Mutations in Common Disorders such as Autism and Schizophrenia
Institutions: Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal, Universite de Montreal.
There are several lines of evidence supporting the role of de novo
mutations as a mechanism for common disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia. First, the de novo
mutation rate in humans is relatively high, so new mutations are generated at a high frequency in the population. However, de novo
mutations have not been reported in most common diseases. Mutations in genes leading to severe diseases where there is a strong negative selection against the phenotype, such as lethality in embryonic stages or reduced reproductive fitness, will not be transmitted to multiple family members, and therefore will not be detected by linkage gene mapping or association studies. The observation of very high concordance in monozygotic twins and very low concordance in dizygotic twins also strongly supports the hypothesis that a significant fraction of cases may result from new mutations. Such is the case for diseases such as autism and schizophrenia. Second, despite reduced reproductive fitness1
and extremely variable environmental factors, the incidence of some diseases is maintained worldwide at a relatively high and constant rate. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia, with an incidence of approximately 1% worldwide. Mutational load can be thought of as a balance between selection for or against a deleterious mutation and its production by de novo
mutation. Lower rates of reproduction constitute a negative selection factor that should reduce the number of mutant alleles in the population, ultimately leading to decreased disease prevalence. These selective pressures tend to be of different intensity in different environments. Nonetheless, these severe mental disorders have been maintained at a constant relatively high prevalence in the worldwide population across a wide range of cultures and countries despite a strong negative selection against them2
. This is not what one would predict in diseases with reduced reproductive fitness, unless there was a high new mutation rate. Finally, the effects of paternal age: there is a significantly increased risk of the disease with increasing paternal age, which could result from the age related increase in paternal de novo
mutations. This is the case for autism and schizophrenia3
. The male-to-female ratio of mutation rate is estimated at about 4–6:1, presumably due to a higher number of germ-cell divisions with age in males. Therefore, one would predict that de novo
mutations would more frequently come from males, particularly older males4
. A high rate of new mutations may in part explain why genetic studies have so far failed to identify many genes predisposing to complexes diseases genes, such as autism and schizophrenia, and why diseases have been identified for a mere 3% of genes in the human genome. Identification for de novo
mutations as a cause of a disease requires a targeted molecular approach, which includes studying parents and affected subjects. The process for determining if the genetic basis of a disease may result in part from de novo
mutations and the molecular approach to establish this link will be illustrated, using autism and schizophrenia as examples.
Medicine, Issue 52, de novo mutation, complex diseases, schizophrenia, autism, rare variations, DNA sequencing
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