In order to quantitatively study object perception, be it perception by biological systems or by machines, one needs to create objects and object categories with precisely definable, preferably naturalistic, properties1. Furthermore, for studies on perceptual learning, it is useful to create novel objects and object categories (or object classes) with such properties2.
Many innovative and useful methods currently exist for creating novel objects and object categories3-6 (also see refs. 7,8). However, generally speaking, the existing methods have three broad types of shortcomings.
First, shape variations are generally imposed by the experimenter5,9,10, and may therefore be different from the variability in natural categories, and optimized for a particular recognition algorithm. It would be desirable to have the variations arise independently of the externally imposed constraints.
Second, the existing methods have difficulty capturing the shape complexity of natural objects11-13. If the goal is to study natural object perception, it is desirable for objects and object categories to be naturalistic, so as to avoid possible confounds and special cases.
Third, it is generally hard to quantitatively measure the available information in the stimuli created by conventional methods. It would be desirable to create objects and object categories where the available information can be precisely measured and, where necessary, systematically manipulated (or 'tuned'). This allows one to formulate the underlying object recognition tasks in quantitative terms.
Here we describe a set of algorithms, or methods, that meet all three of the above criteria. Virtual morphogenesis (VM) creates novel, naturalistic virtual 3-D objects called 'digital embryos' by simulating the biological process of embryogenesis14. Virtual phylogenesis (VP) creates novel, naturalistic object categories by simulating the evolutionary process of natural selection9,12,13. Objects and object categories created by these simulations can be further manipulated by various morphing methods to generate systematic variations of shape characteristics15,16. The VP and morphing methods can also be applied, in principle, to novel virtual objects other than digital embryos, or to virtual versions of real-world objects9,13. Virtual objects created in this fashion can be rendered as visual images using a conventional graphical toolkit, with desired manipulations of surface texture, illumination, size, viewpoint and background. The virtual objects can also be 'printed' as haptic objects using a conventional 3-D prototyper.
We also describe some implementations of these computational algorithms to help illustrate the potential utility of the algorithms. It is important to distinguish the algorithms from their implementations. The implementations are demonstrations offered solely as a 'proof of principle' of the underlying algorithms. It is important to note that, in general, an implementation of a computational algorithm often has limitations that the algorithm itself does not have.
Together, these methods represent a set of powerful and flexible tools for studying object recognition and perceptual learning by biological and computational systems alike. With appropriate extensions, these methods may also prove useful in the study of morphogenesis and phylogenesis.
19 Related JoVE Articles!
A Dual Task Procedure Combined with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation to Test Attentional Blink for Nontargets
Institutions: Dartmouth College.
When viewers search for targets in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream, if two targets are presented within about 500 msec of each other, the first target may be easy to spot but the second is likely to be missed. This phenomenon of attentional blink (AB) has been widely studied to probe the temporal capacity of attention for detecting visual targets. However, with the typical procedure of AB experiments, it is not possible to examine how the processing of non-target items in RSVP may be affected by attention. This paper describes a novel dual task procedure combined with RSVP to test effects of AB for nontargets at varied stimulus onset asynchronies (SOAs). In an exemplar experiment, a target category was first displayed, followed by a sequence of 8 nouns. If one of the nouns belonged to the target category, participants would respond ‘yes’ at the end of the sequence, otherwise participants would respond ‘no’. Two 2-alternative forced choice memory tasks followed the response to determine if participants remembered the words immediately before or after the target, as well as a random word from another part of the sequence. In a second exemplar experiment, the same design was used, except that 1) the memory task was counterbalanced into two groups with SOAs of either 120 or 240 msec and 2) three memory tasks followed the sequence and tested remembrance for nontarget nouns in the sequence that could be anywhere from 3 items prior the target noun position to 3 items following the target noun position. Representative results from a previously published study demonstrate that our procedure can be used to examine divergent effects of attention that not only enhance targets but also suppress nontargets. Here we show results from a representative participant that replicated the previous finding.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dual task, attentional blink, RSVP, target detection, recognition, visual psychophysics
Recording Human Electrocorticographic (ECoG) Signals for Neuroscientific Research and Real-time Functional Cortical Mapping
Institutions: New York State Department of Health, Albany Medical College, Albany Medical College, Washington University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, State University of New York at Albany, University of Texas at El Paso .
Neuroimaging studies of human cognitive, sensory, and motor processes are usually based on noninvasive techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG), magnetoencephalography or functional magnetic-resonance imaging. These techniques have either inherently low temporal or low spatial resolution, and suffer from low signal-to-noise ratio and/or poor high-frequency sensitivity. Thus, they are suboptimal for exploring the short-lived spatio-temporal dynamics of many of the underlying brain processes. In contrast, the invasive technique of electrocorticography (ECoG) provides brain signals that have an exceptionally high signal-to-noise ratio, less susceptibility to artifacts than EEG, and a high spatial and temporal resolution (i.e., <1 cm/<1 millisecond, respectively). ECoG involves measurement of electrical brain signals using electrodes that are implanted subdurally on the surface of the brain. Recent studies have shown that ECoG amplitudes in certain frequency bands carry substantial information about task-related activity, such as motor execution and planning1
, auditory processing2
and visual-spatial attention3
. Most of this information is captured in the high gamma range (around 70-110 Hz). Thus, gamma activity has been proposed as a robust and general indicator of local cortical function1-5
. ECoG can also reveal functional connectivity and resolve finer task-related spatial-temporal dynamics, thereby advancing our understanding of large-scale cortical processes. It has especially proven useful for advancing brain-computer interfacing (BCI) technology for decoding a user's intentions to enhance or improve communication6
. Nevertheless, human ECoG data are often hard to obtain because of the risks and limitations of the invasive procedures involved, and the need to record within the constraints of clinical settings. Still, clinical monitoring to localize epileptic foci offers a unique and valuable opportunity to collect human ECoG data. We describe our methods for collecting recording ECoG, and demonstrate how to use these signals for important real-time applications such as clinical mapping and brain-computer interfacing. Our example uses the BCI2000 software platform8,9
and the SIGFRIED10
method, an application for real-time mapping of brain functions. This procedure yields information that clinicians can subsequently use to guide the complex and laborious process of functional mapping by electrical stimulation.
Prerequisites and Planning:
Patients with drug-resistant partial epilepsy may be candidates for resective surgery of an epileptic focus to minimize the frequency of seizures. Prior to resection, the patients undergo monitoring using subdural electrodes for two purposes: first, to localize the epileptic focus, and second, to identify nearby critical brain areas (i.e., eloquent cortex) where resection could result in long-term functional deficits. To implant electrodes, a craniotomy is performed to open the skull. Then, electrode grids and/or strips are placed on the cortex, usually beneath the dura. A typical grid has a set of 8 x 8 platinum-iridium electrodes of 4 mm diameter (2.3 mm exposed surface) embedded in silicon with an inter-electrode distance of 1cm. A strip typically contains 4 or 6 such electrodes in a single line. The locations for these grids/strips are planned by a team of neurologists and neurosurgeons, and are based on previous EEG monitoring, on a structural MRI of the patient's brain, and on relevant factors of the patient's history. Continuous recording over a period of 5-12 days serves to localize epileptic foci, and electrical stimulation via the implanted electrodes allows clinicians to map eloquent cortex. At the end of the monitoring period, explantation of the electrodes and therapeutic resection are performed together in one procedure.
In addition to its primary clinical purpose, invasive monitoring also provides a unique opportunity to acquire human ECoG data for neuroscientific research. The decision to include a prospective patient in the research is based on the planned location of their electrodes, on the patient's performance scores on neuropsychological assessments, and on their informed consent, which is predicated on their understanding that participation in research is optional and is not related to their treatment. As with all research involving human subjects, the research protocol must be approved by the hospital's institutional review board. The decision to perform individual experimental tasks is made day-by-day, and is contingent on the patient's endurance and willingness to participate. Some or all of the experiments may be prevented by problems with the clinical state of the patient, such as post-operative facial swelling, temporary aphasia, frequent seizures, post-ictal fatigue and confusion, and more general pain or discomfort.
At the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit at Albany Medical Center in Albany, New York, clinical monitoring is implemented around the clock using a 192-channel Nihon-Kohden Neurofax monitoring system. Research recordings are made in collaboration with the Wadsworth Center of the New York State Department of Health in Albany. Signals from the ECoG electrodes are fed simultaneously to the research and the clinical systems via splitter connectors. To ensure that the clinical and research systems do not interfere with each other, the two systems typically use separate grounds. In fact, an epidural strip of electrodes is sometimes implanted to provide a ground for the clinical system. Whether research or clinical recording system, the grounding electrode is chosen to be distant from the predicted epileptic focus and from cortical areas of interest for the research. Our research system consists of eight synchronized 16-channel g.USBamp amplifier/digitizer units (g.tec, Graz, Austria). These were chosen because they are safety-rated and FDA-approved for invasive recordings, they have a very low noise-floor in the high-frequency range in which the signals of interest are found, and they come with an SDK that allows them to be integrated with custom-written research software. In order to capture the high-gamma signal accurately, we acquire signals at 1200Hz sampling rate-considerably higher than that of the typical EEG experiment or that of many clinical monitoring systems. A built-in low-pass filter automatically prevents aliasing of signals higher than the digitizer can capture. The patient's eye gaze is tracked using a monitor with a built-in Tobii T-60 eye-tracking system (Tobii Tech., Stockholm, Sweden). Additional accessories such as joystick, bluetooth Wiimote (Nintendo Co.), data-glove (5th
Dimension Technologies), keyboard, microphone, headphones, or video camera are connected depending on the requirements of the particular experiment.
Data collection, stimulus presentation, synchronization with the different input/output accessories, and real-time analysis and visualization are accomplished using our BCI2000 software8,9
. BCI2000 is a freely available general-purpose software system for real-time biosignal data acquisition, processing and feedback. It includes an array of pre-built modules that can be flexibly configured for many different purposes, and that can be extended by researchers' own code in C++, MATLAB or Python. BCI2000 consists of four modules that communicate with each other via a network-capable protocol: a Source module that handles the acquisition of brain signals from one of 19 different hardware systems from different manufacturers; a Signal Processing module that extracts relevant ECoG features and translates them into output signals; an Application module that delivers stimuli and feedback to the subject; and the Operator module that provides a graphical interface to the investigator.
A number of different experiments may be conducted with any given patient. The priority of experiments will be determined by the location of the particular patient's electrodes. However, we usually begin our experimentation using the SIGFRIED (SIGnal modeling For Realtime Identification and Event Detection) mapping method, which detects and displays significant task-related activity in real time. The resulting functional map allows us to further tailor subsequent experimental protocols and may also prove as a useful starting point for traditional mapping by electrocortical stimulation (ECS).
Although ECS mapping remains the gold standard for predicting the clinical outcome of resection, the process of ECS mapping is time consuming and also has other problems, such as after-discharges or seizures. Thus, a passive functional mapping technique may prove valuable in providing an initial estimate of the locus of eloquent cortex, which may then be confirmed and refined by ECS. The results from our passive SIGFRIED mapping technique have been shown to exhibit substantial concurrence with the results derived using ECS mapping10
The protocol described in this paper establishes a general methodology for gathering human ECoG data, before proceeding to illustrate how experiments can be initiated using the BCI2000 software platform. Finally, as a specific example, we describe how to perform passive functional mapping using the BCI2000-based SIGFRIED system.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, electrocorticography, brain-computer interfacing, functional brain mapping, SIGFRIED, BCI2000, epilepsy monitoring, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI
Assessment of Cerebral Lateralization in Children using Functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD)
Institutions: University of Oxford.
There are many unanswered questions about cerebral lateralization. In particular, it remains unclear which aspects of language and nonverbal ability are lateralized, whether there are any disadvantages associated with atypical patterns of cerebral lateralization, and whether cerebral lateralization develops with age. In the past, researchers interested in these questions tended to use handedness as a proxy measure for cerebral lateralization, but this is unsatisfactory because handedness is only a weak and indirect indicator of laterality of cognitive functions1
. Other methods, such as fMRI, are expensive for large-scale studies, and not always feasible with children2
Here we will describe the use of functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound (fTCD) as a cost-effective, non-invasive and reliable method for assessing cerebral lateralization. The procedure involves measuring blood flow in the middle cerebral artery via an ultrasound probe placed just in front of the ear. Our work builds on work by Rune Aaslid, who co-introduced TCD in 1982, and Stefan Knecht, Michael Deppe and their colleagues at the University of Münster, who pioneered the use of simultaneous measurements of left- and right middle cerebral artery blood flow, and devised a method of correcting for heart beat activity. This made it possible to see a clear increase in left-sided blood flow during language generation, with lateralization agreeing well with that obtained using other methods3
The middle cerebral artery has a very wide vascular territory (see Figure 1) and the method does not provide useful information about localization within a hemisphere. Our experience suggests it is particularly sensitive to tasks that involve explicit or implicit speech production. The 'gold standard' task is a word generation task (e.g. think of as many words as you can that begin with the letter 'B') 4
, but this is not suitable for young children and others with limited literacy skills. Compared with other brain imaging methods, fTCD is relatively unaffected by movement artefacts from speaking, and so we are able to get a reliable result from tasks that involve describing pictures aloud5,6
. Accordingly, we have developed a child-friendly task that involves looking at video-clips that tell a story, and then describing what was seen.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound, cerebral lateralization, language, child
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
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
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
Enhanced Northern Blot Detection of Small RNA Species in Drosophila Melanogaster
Institutions: Institut de Génétique et de Biologie Moléculaire et Cellulaire, Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia.
The last decades have witnessed the explosion of scientific interest around gene expression control mechanisms at the RNA level. This branch of molecular biology has been greatly fueled by the discovery of noncoding RNAs as major players in post-transcriptional regulation. Such a revolutionary perspective has been accompanied and triggered by the development of powerful technologies for profiling short RNAs expression, both at the high-throughput level (genome-wide identification) or as single-candidate analysis (steady state accumulation of specific species). Although several state-of-art strategies are currently available for dosing or visualizing such fleeing molecules, Northern Blot assay remains the eligible approach in molecular biology for immediate and accurate evaluation of RNA expression. It represents a first step toward the application of more sophisticated, costly technologies and, in many cases, remains a preferential method to easily gain insights into RNA biology. Here we overview an efficient protocol (Enhanced Northern Blot) for detecting weakly expressed microRNAs (or other small regulatory RNA species) from Drosophila melanogaster
whole embryos, manually dissected larval/adult tissues or in vitro
cultured cells. A very limited amount of RNA is required and the use of material from flow cytometry-isolated cells can be also envisaged.
Molecular Biology, Issue 90, Northern blotting, Noncoding RNAs, microRNAs, rasiRNA, Gene expression, Gcm/Glide, Drosophila melanogaster
Making Sense of Listening: The IMAP Test Battery
Institutions: MRC Institute of Hearing Research, National Biomedical Research Unit in Hearing.
The ability to hear is only the first step towards making sense of the range of information contained in an auditory signal. Of equal importance are the abilities to extract and use the information encoded in the auditory signal. We refer to these as listening skills (or auditory processing AP). Deficits in these skills are associated with delayed language and literacy development, though the nature of the relevant deficits and their causal connection with these delays is hotly debated.
When a child is referred to a health professional with normal hearing and unexplained difficulties in listening, or associated delays in language or literacy development, they should ideally be assessed with a combination of psychoacoustic (AP) tests, suitable for children and for use in a clinic, together with cognitive tests to measure attention, working memory, IQ, and language skills. Such a detailed examination needs to be relatively short and within the technical capability of any suitably qualified professional. Current tests for the presence of AP deficits tend to be poorly constructed and inadequately validated within the normal population. They have little or no reference to the presenting symptoms of the child, and typically include a linguistic component. Poor performance may thus reflect problems with language rather than with AP. To assist in the assessment of children with listening difficulties, pediatric audiologists need a single, standardized child-appropriate test battery based on the use of language-free stimuli.
We present the IMAP test battery which was developed at the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to supplement tests currently used to investigate cases of suspected AP deficits. IMAP assesses a range of relevant auditory and cognitive skills and takes about one hour to complete. It has been standardized in 1500 normally-hearing children from across the UK, aged 6-11 years. Since its development, it has been successfully used in a number of large scale studies both in the UK and the USA. IMAP provides measures for separating out sensory from cognitive contributions to hearing. It further limits confounds due to procedural effects by presenting tests in a child-friendly game-format. Stimulus-generation, management of test protocols and control of test presentation is mediated by the IHR-STAR software platform. This provides a standardized methodology for a range of applications and ensures replicable procedures across testers. IHR-STAR provides a flexible, user-programmable environment that currently has additional applications for hearing screening, mapping cochlear implant electrodes, and academic research or teaching.
Neuroscience, Issue 44, Listening skills, auditory processing, auditory psychophysics, clinical assessment, child-friendly testing
Utilizing Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Improve Language Function in Stroke Patients with Chronic Non-fluent Aphasia
Institutions: University of Pennsylvania , University of Pennsylvania , Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been shown to significantly improve language function in patients with non-fluent aphasia1
. In this experiment, we demonstrate the administration of low-frequency repetitive TMS (rTMS) to an optimal stimulation site in the right hemisphere in patients with chronic non-fluent aphasia. A battery of standardized language measures is administered in order to assess baseline performance. Patients are subsequently randomized to either receive real rTMS or initial sham stimulation. Patients in the real stimulation undergo a site-finding phase, comprised of a series of six rTMS sessions administered over five days; stimulation is delivered to a different site in the right frontal lobe during each of these sessions. Each site-finding session consists of 600 pulses of 1 Hz rTMS, preceded and followed by a picture-naming task. By comparing the degree of transient change in naming ability elicited by stimulation of candidate sites, we are able to locate the area of optimal response for each individual patient. We then administer rTMS to this site during the treatment phase. During treatment, patients undergo a total of ten days of stimulation over the span of two weeks; each session is comprised of 20 min of 1 Hz rTMS delivered at 90% resting motor threshold. Stimulation is paired with an fMRI-naming task on the first and last days of treatment. After the treatment phase is complete, the language battery obtained at baseline is repeated two and six months following stimulation in order to identify rTMS-induced changes in performance. The fMRI-naming task is also repeated two and six months following treatment. Patients who are randomized to the sham arm of the study undergo sham site-finding, sham treatment, fMRI-naming studies, and repeat language testing two months after completing sham treatment. Sham patients then cross over into the real stimulation arm, completing real site-finding, real treatment, fMRI, and two- and six-month post-stimulation language testing.
Medicine, Issue 77, Neurobiology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Neurology, Stroke, Aphasia, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, TMS, language, neurorehabilitation, optimal site-finding, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, brain, stimulation, imaging, clinical techniques, clinical applications
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
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
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
Training Synesthetic Letter-color Associations by Reading in Color
Institutions: University of Amsterdam.
Synesthesia is a rare condition in which a stimulus from one modality automatically and consistently triggers unusual sensations in the same and/or other modalities. A relatively common and well-studied type is grapheme-color synesthesia, defined as the consistent experience of color when viewing, hearing and thinking about letters, words and numbers. We describe our method for investigating to what extent synesthetic associations between letters and colors can be learned by reading in color in nonsynesthetes. Reading in color is a special method for training associations in the sense that the associations are learned implicitly while the reader reads text as he or she normally would and it does not require explicit computer-directed training methods. In this protocol, participants are given specially prepared books to read in which four high-frequency letters are paired with four high-frequency colors. Participants receive unique sets of letter-color pairs based on their pre-existing preferences for colored letters. A modified Stroop task is administered before and after reading in order to test for learned letter-color associations and changes in brain activation. In addition to objective testing, a reading experience questionnaire is administered that is designed to probe for differences in subjective experience. A subset of questions may predict how well an individual learned the associations from reading in color. Importantly, we are not claiming that this method will cause each individual to develop grapheme-color synesthesia, only that it is possible for certain individuals to form letter-color associations by reading in color and these associations are similar in some aspects to those seen in developmental grapheme-color synesthetes. The method is quite flexible and can be used to investigate different aspects and outcomes of training synesthetic associations, including learning-induced changes in brain function and structure.
Behavior, Issue 84, synesthesia, training, learning, reading, vision, memory, cognition
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation for Investigating Causal Brain-behavioral Relationships and their Time Course
Institutions: University College London.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a safe, non-invasive brain stimulation technique that uses a strong electromagnet in order to temporarily disrupt information processing in a brain region, generating a short-lived “virtual lesion.” Stimulation that interferes with task performance indicates that the affected brain region is necessary to perform the task normally. In other words, unlike neuroimaging methods such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that indicate correlations between brain and behavior, TMS can be used to demonstrate causal brain-behavior relations. Furthermore, by varying the duration and onset of the virtual lesion, TMS can also reveal the time course of normal processing. As a result, TMS has become an important tool in cognitive neuroscience. Advantages of the technique over lesion-deficit studies include better spatial-temporal precision of the disruption effect, the ability to use participants as their own control subjects, and the accessibility of participants. Limitations include concurrent auditory and somatosensory stimulation that may influence task performance, limited access to structures more than a few centimeters from the surface of the scalp, and the relatively large space of free parameters that need to be optimized in order for the experiment to work. Experimental designs that give careful consideration to appropriate control conditions help to address these concerns. This article illustrates these issues with TMS results that investigate the spatial and temporal contributions of the left supramarginal gyrus (SMG) to reading.
Behavior, Issue 89,
Transcranial magnetic stimulation, virtual lesion, chronometric, cognition, brain, behavior
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
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
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Neural Correlates of Observing Virtual Social Interactions
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Illinois, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The ability to gauge social interactions is crucial in the assessment of others’ intentions. Factors such as facial expressions and body language affect our decisions in personal and professional life alike 1
. These "friend or foe
" judgements are often based on first impressions, which in turn may affect our decisions to "approach or avoid
". Previous studies investigating the neural correlates of social cognition tended to use static facial stimuli 2
. Here, we illustrate an experimental design in which whole-body animated characters were used in conjunction with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings. Fifteen participants were presented with short movie-clips of guest-host interactions in a business setting, while fMRI data were recorded; at the end of each movie, participants also provided ratings of the host behaviour. This design mimics more closely real-life situations, and hence may contribute to better understanding of the neural mechanisms of social interactions in healthy behaviour, and to gaining insight into possible causes of deficits in social behaviour in such clinical conditions as social anxiety and autism 3
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Social Perception, Social Knowledge, Social Cognition Network, Non-Verbal Communication, Decision-Making, Event-Related fMRI
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution