Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+Itpr3tf/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
16 Related JoVE Articles!
Marble Burying and Nestlet Shredding as Tests of Repetitive, Compulsive-like Behaviors in Mice
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are serious and debilitating psychiatric conditions and each constitutes a significant public health concern, particularly in children. Both of these conditions are highlighted by the repeated expression of meaningless behaviors. Individuals with OCD often show checking, frequent hand washing, and counting. Children with ASDs also engage in repetitive tapping, arm or hand flapping, and rocking. These behaviors can vary widely in intensity and frequency of expression. More intense forms of repetitive behaviors can even result in injury (e.g.
excessive grooming, hand washing, and self-stimulation). These behaviors are therefore very disruptive and make normal social discourse difficult. Treatment options for repetitive behaviors in OCD and ASDs are somewhat limited and there is great interest in developing more effective therapies for each condition. Numerous animal models for evaluating compulsive-like behaviors have been developed over the past three decades. Perhaps the animal models with the greatest validity and ease of use are the marble burying test and the nestlet shredding test. Both tests take advantage of the fact that the target behaviors occur spontaneously in mice. In the marble burying test, 20 marbles are arrayed on the surface of clean bedding. The number of marbles buried in a 30 min session is scored by investigators blind to the treatment or status of the subjects. In the nestlet shredding test, a nestlet comprised of pulped cotton fiber is preweighed and placed on top of cage bedding and the amount of the nestlet remaining intact after a 30 min test session is determined. Presently, we describe protocols for and show movie documentation of marble burying and nestlet shredding. Both tests are easily and accurately scored and each is sensitive to small changes in the expression of compulsive-like behaviors that result from genetic manipulations, disease, or head injury.
Behavior, Issue 82, compulsive-like behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), marble burying, nestlet shredding, TPH2 KO mice
Targeted Training of Ultrasonic Vocalizations in Aged and Parkinsonian Rats
Institutions: University of Wisconsin, University of Wisconsin.
Voice deficits are a common complication of both Parkinson disease (PD) and aging; they can significantly diminish quality of life by impacting communication abilities. 1, 2
Targeted training (speech/voice therapy) can improve specific voice deficits,3, 4
although the underlying mechanisms of behavioral interventions are not well understood. Systematic investigation of voice deficits and therapy should consider many factors that are difficult to control in humans, such as age, home environment, age post-onset of disease, severity of disease, and medications. The method presented here uses an animal model of vocalization that allows for systematic study of how underlying sensorimotor mechanisms change with targeted voice training. The ultrasonic recording and analysis procedures outlined in this protocol are applicable to any investigation of rodent ultrasonic vocalizations.
The ultrasonic vocalizations of rodents are emerging as a valuable model to investigate the neural substrates of behavior.5-8
Both rodent and human vocalizations carry semiotic value and are produced by modifying an egressive airflow with a laryngeal constriction.9, 10
Thus, rodent vocalizations may be a useful model to study voice deficits in a sensorimotor context. Further, rat models allow us to study the neurobiological underpinnings of recovery from deficits with targeted training.
To model PD we use Long-Evans rats (Charles River Laboratories International, Inc.) and induce parkinsonism by a unilateral infusion of 7 μg of 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) into the medial forebrain bundle which causes moderate to severe degeneration of presynaptic striatal neurons (for details see Ciucci, 2010).11, 12
For our aging model we use the Fischer 344/Brown Norway F1 (National Institute on Aging).
Our primary method for eliciting vocalizations is to expose sexually-experienced male rats to sexually receptive female rats. When the male becomes interested in the female, the female is removed and the male continues to vocalize. By rewarding complex vocalizations with food or water, both the number of complex vocalizations and the rate of vocalizations can be increased (Figure 1).
An ultrasonic microphone mounted above the male's home cage records the vocalizations. Recording begins after the female rat is removed to isolate the male calls. Vocalizations can be viewed in real time for training or recorded and analyzed offline. By recording and acoustically analyzing vocalizations before and after vocal training, the effects of disease and restoration of normal function with training can be assessed. This model also allows us to relate the observed behavioral (vocal) improvements to changes in the brain and neuromuscular system.
Neuroscience, Issue 54, ultrasonic vocalization, rat, aging, Parkinson disease, exercise, 6-hydroxydopamine, voice disorders, voice therapy
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
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
Using Chronic Social Stress to Model Postpartum Depression in Lactating Rodents
Institutions: Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Manchester Metropolitan University.
Exposure to chronic stress is a reliable predictor of depressive disorders, and social stress is a common ethologically relevant stressor in both animals and humans. However, many animal models of depression were developed in males and are not applicable or effective in studies of postpartum females. Recent studies have reported significant effects of chronic social stress during lactation, an ethologically relevant and effective stressor, on maternal behavior, growth, and behavioral neuroendocrinology. This manuscript will describe this chronic social stress paradigm using repeated exposure of a lactating dam to a novel male intruder, and the assessment of the behavioral, physiological, and neuroendocrine effects of this model. Chronic social stress (CSS) is a valuable model for studying the effects of stress on the behavior and physiology of the dam as well as her offspring and future generations. The exposure of pups to CSS can also be used as an early life stress that has long term effects on behavior, physiology, and neuroendocrinology.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Neurobehavioral Manifestations, Mental Health, Mood Disorders, Depressive Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, behavioral sciences, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Mental Disorders, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Postpartum, Maternal Behavior, Nursing, Growth, Transgenerational, animal model
TMS: Using the Theta-Burst Protocol to Explore Mechanism of Plasticity in Individuals with Fragile X Syndrome and Autism
Institutions: Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), also known as Martin-Bell Syndrome
, is a genetic abnormality found on the X chromosome.1,2
Individuals suffering from FXS display abnormalities in the expression of FMR1 - a protein required for typical, healthy neural development.3
Recent data has suggested that the loss of this protein can cause the cortex to be hyperexcitable thereby affecting overall patterns of neural plasticity.4,5
In addition, Fragile X shows a strong comorbidity with autism: in fact, 30% of children with FXS are diagnosed with autism, and 2 - 5% of autistic children suffer from FXS.6
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (a non-invasive neurostimulatory and neuromodulatory technique that can transiently or lastingly modulate cortical excitability via the application of localized magnetic field pulses 7,8
) represents a unique method of exploring plasticity and the manifestations of FXS within affected individuals. More specifically, Theta-Burst Stimulation (TBS), a specific stimulatory protocol shown to modulate cortical plasticity for a duration up to 30 minutes after stimulation cessation in healthy populations, has already proven an efficacious tool in the exploration of abnormal plasticity.9,10
Recent studies have shown the effects of TBS last considerably longer in individuals on the autistic spectrum - up to 90 minutes.11
This extended effect-duration suggests an underlying abnormality in the brain's natural plasticity state in autistic individuals - similar to the hyperexcitability induced by Fragile X Syndrome.
In this experiment, utilizing single-pulse motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) as our benchmark, we will explore the effects of both intermittent and continuous TBS on cortical plasticity in individuals suffering from FXS and individuals on the Autistic Spectrum.
Neuroscience, Issue 46, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, Theta-Burst Stimulation, Neural Plasticity, Fragile X, Autism
Osmotic Avoidance in Caenorhabditis elegans: Synaptic Function of Two Genes, Orthologues of Human NRXN1 and NLGN1, as Candidates for Autism
Institutions: Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Córdoba, Instituto Maimónides de Investigación Biomédica de Córdoba (IMIBIC).
Neurexins and neuroligins are cell adhesion molecules present in excitatory and inhibitory synapses, and they are required for correct neuron network function1
. These proteins are found at the presynaptic and postsynaptic membranes 2
. Studies in mice indicate that neurexins and neurologins have an essential role in synaptic transmission 1
. Recent reports have shown that altered neuronal connections during the development of the human nervous system could constitute the basis of the etiology of numerous cases of autism spectrum disorders 3
could be used as an experimental tool to facilitate the study of the functioning of synaptic components, because of its simplicity for laboratory experimentation, and given that its nervous system and synaptic wiring has been fully characterized. In C
. elegans nrx-1
genes are orthologous to human NRXN1
genes which encode alpha-neurexin-1 and neuroligin-1 proteins, respectively. In humans and nematodes, the organization of neurexins and neuroligins is similar in respect to functional domains.
The head of the nematode contains the amphid, a sensory organ of the nematode, which mediates responses to different stimuli, including osmotic strength. The amphid is made of 12 sensory bipolar neurons with ciliated dendrites and one presynaptic terminal axon 4
. Two of these neurons, named ASHR and ASHL are particularly important in osmotic sensory function, detecting water-soluble repellents with high osmotic strength 5
. The dendrites of these two neurons lengthen to the tip of the mouth and the axons extend to the nerve ring, where they make synaptic connections with other neurons determining the behavioral response 6
To evaluate the implications of neurexin and neuroligin in high osmotic strength avoidance, we show the different response of C. elegans mutants defective in nrx-1
genes, using a method based on a 4M fructose ring 7
. The behavioral phenotypes were confirmed using specific RNAi clones 8
. In C. elegans
, the dsRNA required to trigger RNAi can be administered by feeding 9
. The delivery of dsRNA through food induces the RNAi interference of the gene of interest thus allowing the identification of genetic components and network pathways.
Neuroscience, Microbiology, Issue 34, synapse, osmotic sensitivity, Caenorhabditis elegans, neurexin, neuroligin, autism, neuroscience
Diffusion Tensor Magnetic Resonance Imaging in the Analysis of Neurodegenerative Diseases
Institutions: University of Ulm.
Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) techniques provide information on the microstructural processes of the cerebral white matter (WM) in vivo
. The present applications are designed to investigate differences of WM involvement patterns in different brain diseases, especially neurodegenerative disorders, by use of different DTI analyses in comparison with matched controls.
DTI data analysis is performed in a variate fashion, i.e.
voxelwise comparison of regional diffusion direction-based metrics such as fractional anisotropy (FA), together with fiber tracking (FT) accompanied by tractwise fractional anisotropy statistics (TFAS) at the group level in order to identify differences in FA along WM structures, aiming at the definition of regional patterns of WM alterations at the group level. Transformation into a stereotaxic standard space is a prerequisite for group studies and requires thorough data processing to preserve directional inter-dependencies. The present applications show optimized technical approaches for this preservation of quantitative and directional information during spatial normalization in data analyses at the group level. On this basis, FT techniques can be applied to group averaged data in order to quantify metrics information as defined by FT. Additionally, application of DTI methods, i.e.
differences in FA-maps after stereotaxic alignment, in a longitudinal analysis at an individual subject basis reveal information about the progression of neurological disorders. Further quality improvement of DTI based results can be obtained during preprocessing by application of a controlled elimination of gradient directions with high noise levels.
In summary, DTI is used to define a distinct WM pathoanatomy of different brain diseases by the combination of whole brain-based and tract-based DTI analysis.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurodegenerative Diseases, nuclear magnetic resonance, NMR, MR, MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, fiber tracking, group level comparison, neurodegenerative diseases, brain, imaging, clinical techniques
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
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
EEG Mu Rhythm in Typical and Atypical Development
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is an effective, efficient, and noninvasive method of assessing and recording brain activity. Given the excellent temporal resolution, EEG can be used to examine the neural response related to specific behaviors, states, or external stimuli. An example of this utility is the assessment of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in humans through the examination of the EEG mu rhythm. The EEG mu rhythm, oscillatory activity in the 8-12 Hz frequency range recorded from centrally located electrodes, is suppressed when an individual executes, or simply observes, goal directed actions. As such, it has been proposed to reflect activity of the MNS. It has been theorized that dysfunction in the mirror neuron system (MNS) plays a contributing role in the social deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The MNS can then be noninvasively examined in clinical populations by using EEG mu rhythm attenuation as an index for its activity. The described protocol provides an avenue to examine social cognitive functions theoretically linked to the MNS in individuals with typical and atypical development, such as ASD.
Medicine, Issue 86, Electroencephalography (EEG), mu rhythm, imitation, autism spectrum disorder, social cognition, mirror neuron system
Using an Automated 3D-tracking System to Record Individual and Shoals of Adult Zebrafish
Like many aquatic animals, zebrafish (Danio rerio
) moves in a 3D space. It is thus preferable to use a 3D recording system to study its behavior. The presented automatic video tracking system accomplishes this by using a mirror system and a calibration procedure that corrects for the considerable error introduced by the transition of light from water to air. With this system it is possible to record both single and groups of adult zebrafish. Before use, the system has to be calibrated. The system consists of three modules: Recording, Path Reconstruction, and Data Processing. The step-by-step protocols for calibration and using the three modules are presented. Depending on the experimental setup, the system can be used for testing neophobia, white aversion, social cohesion, motor impairments, novel object exploration etc
. It is especially promising as a first-step tool to study the effects of drugs or mutations on basic behavioral patterns. The system provides information about vertical and horizontal distribution of the zebrafish, about the xyz-components of kinematic parameters (such as locomotion, velocity, acceleration, and turning angle) and it provides the data necessary to calculate parameters for social cohesions when testing shoals.
Behavior, Issue 82, neuroscience, Zebrafish, Danio rerio, anxiety, Shoaling, Pharmacology, 3D-tracking, MK801
Setting-up an In Vitro Model of Rat Blood-brain Barrier (BBB): A Focus on BBB Impermeability and Receptor-mediated Transport
Institutions: VECT-HORUS SAS, CNRS, NICN UMR 7259.
The blood brain barrier (BBB) specifically regulates molecular and cellular flux between the blood and the nervous tissue. Our aim was to develop and characterize a highly reproducible rat syngeneic in vitro
model of the BBB using co-cultures of primary rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC) and astrocytes to study receptors involved in transcytosis across the endothelial cell monolayer. Astrocytes were isolated by mechanical dissection following trypsin digestion and were frozen for later co-culture. RBEC were isolated from 5-week-old rat cortices. The brains were cleaned of meninges and white matter, and mechanically dissociated following enzymatic digestion. Thereafter, the tissue homogenate was centrifuged in bovine serum albumin to separate vessel fragments from nervous tissue. The vessel fragments underwent a second enzymatic digestion to free endothelial cells from their extracellular matrix. The remaining contaminating cells such as pericytes were further eliminated by plating the microvessel fragments in puromycin-containing medium. They were then passaged onto filters for co-culture with astrocytes grown on the bottom of the wells. RBEC expressed high levels of tight junction (TJ) proteins such as occludin, claudin-5 and ZO-1 with a typical localization at the cell borders. The transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER) of brain endothelial monolayers, indicating the tightness of TJs reached 300 ohm·cm2
on average. The endothelial permeability coefficients (Pe) for lucifer yellow (LY) was highly reproducible with an average of 0.26 ± 0.11 x 10-3
cm/min. Brain endothelial cells organized in monolayers expressed the efflux transporter P-glycoprotein (P-gp), showed a polarized transport of rhodamine 123, a ligand for P-gp, and showed specific transport of transferrin-Cy3 and DiILDL across the endothelial cell monolayer. In conclusion, we provide a protocol for setting up an in vitro
BBB model that is highly reproducible due to the quality assurance methods, and that is suitable for research on BBB transporters and receptors.
Medicine, Issue 88, rat brain endothelial cells (RBEC), mouse, spinal cord, tight junction (TJ), receptor-mediated transport (RMT), low density lipoprotein (LDL), LDLR, transferrin, TfR, P-glycoprotein (P-gp), transendothelial electrical resistance (TEER),
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
Probing the Brain in Autism Using fMRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Newly emerging theories suggest that the brain does not function as a cohesive unit in autism, and this discordance is reflected in the behavioral symptoms displayed by individuals with autism. While structural neuroimaging findings have provided some insights into brain abnormalities in autism, the consistency of such findings is questionable. Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, has been more fruitful in this regard because autism is a disorder of dynamic processing and allows examination of communication between cortical networks, which appears to be where the underlying problem occurs in autism. Functional connectivity is defined as the temporal correlation of spatially separate neurological events1. Findings from a number of recent fMRI studies have supported the idea that there is weaker coordination between different parts of the brain that should be working together to accomplish complex social or language problems2,3,4,5,6
. One of the mysteries of autism is the coexistence of deficits in several domains along with relatively intact, sometimes enhanced, abilities. Such complex manifestation of autism calls for a global and comprehensive examination of the disorder at the neural level. A compelling recent account of the brain functioning in autism, the cortical underconnectivity theory,2,7
provides an integrating framework for the neurobiological bases of autism. The cortical underconnectivity theory of autism suggests that any language, social, or psychological function that is dependent on the integration of multiple brain regions is susceptible to disruption as the processing demand increases. In autism, the underfunctioning of integrative circuitry in the brain may cause widespread underconnectivity. In other words, people with autism may interpret information in a piecemeal fashion at the expense of the whole. Since cortical underconnectivity among brain regions, especially the frontal cortex and more posterior areas 3,6
, has now been relatively well established, we can begin to further understand brain connectivity as a critical component of autism symptomatology.
A logical next step in this direction is to examine the anatomical connections that may mediate the functional connections mentioned above. Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a relatively novel neuroimaging technique that helps probe the diffusion of water in the brain to infer the integrity of white matter fibers. In this technique, water diffusion in the brain is examined in several directions using diffusion gradients. While functional connectivity provides information about the synchronization of brain activation across different brain areas during a task or during rest, DTI helps in understanding the underlying axonal organization which may facilitate the cross-talk among brain areas. This paper will describe these techniques as valuable tools in understanding the brain in autism and the challenges involved in this line of research.
Medicine, Issue 55, Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Functional Connectivity, Neuroscience, Developmental disorders, Autism, Fractional Anisotropy