Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, or LRET, is a powerful technique used to measure distances between two sites in proteins within the distance range of 10-100 Å. By measuring the distances under various ligated conditions, conformational changes of the protein can be easily assessed. With LRET, a lanthanide, most often chelated terbium, is used as the donor fluorophore, affording advantages such as a longer donor-only emission lifetime, the flexibility to use multiple acceptor fluorophores, and the opportunity to detect sensitized acceptor emission as an easy way to measure energy transfer without the risk of also detecting donor-only signal. Here, we describe a method to use LRET on membrane proteins expressed and assayed on the surface of intact mammalian cells. We introduce a protease cleavage site between the LRET fluorophore pair. After obtaining the original LRET signal, cleavage at that site removes the specific LRET signal from the protein of interest allowing us to quantitatively subtract the background signal that remains after cleavage. This method allows for more physiologically relevant measurements to be made without the need for purification of protein.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
Investigating the Neural Mechanisms of Aware and Unaware Fear Memory with fMRI
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Pavlovian fear conditioning is often used in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in humans to investigate the neural substrates of associative learning 1-5
. In these studies, it is important to provide behavioral evidence of conditioning to verify that differences in brain activity are learning-related and correlated with human behavior.
Fear conditioning studies often monitor autonomic responses (e.g. skin conductance response; SCR) as an index of learning and memory 6-8
. In addition, other behavioral measures can provide valuable information about the learning process and/or other cognitive functions that influence conditioning. For example, the impact unconditioned stimulus (UCS) expectancies have on the expression of the conditioned response (CR) and unconditioned response (UCR) has been a topic of interest in several recent studies 9-14
. SCR and UCS expectancy measures have recently been used in conjunction with fMRI to investigate the neural substrates of aware and unaware fear learning and memory processes 15
. Although these cognitive processes can be evaluated to some degree following the conditioning session, post-conditioning assessments cannot measure expectations on a trial-to-trial basis and are susceptible to interference and forgetting, as well as other factors that may distort results 16,17
Monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses simultaneously with fMRI provides a mechanism by which the neural substrates that mediate complex relationships between cognitive processes and behavioral/autonomic responses can be assessed. However, monitoring autonomic and behavioral responses in the MRI environment poses a number of practical problems. Specifically, 1) standard behavioral and physiological monitoring equipment is constructed of ferrous material that cannot be safely used near the MRI scanner, 2) when this equipment is placed outside of the MRI scanning chamber, the cables projecting to the subject can carry RF noise that produces artifacts in brain images, 3) artifacts can be produced within the skin conductance signal by switching gradients during scanning, 4) the fMRI signal produced by the motor demands of behavioral responses may need to be distinguished from activity related to the cognitive processes of interest. Each of these issues can be resolved with modifications to the setup of physiological monitoring equipment and additional data analysis procedures. Here we present a methodology to simultaneously monitor autonomic and behavioral responses during fMRI, and demonstrate the use of these methods to investigate aware and unaware memory processes during fear conditioning.
Neuroscience, Issue 56, fMRI, conditioning, learning, memory, fear, contingency awareness, neuroscience, skin conductance
A Simple Stimulatory Device for Evoking Point-like Tactile Stimuli: A Searchlight for LFP to Spike Transitions
Institutions: National Research Council, National Research Council, University of Manchester.
Current neurophysiological research has the aim to develop methodologies to investigate the signal route from neuron to neuron, namely in the transitions from spikes to Local Field Potentials (LFPs) and from LFPs to spikes.
LFPs have a complex dependence on spike activity and their relation is still poorly understood1
. The elucidation of these signal relations would be helpful both for clinical diagnostics (e.g.
stimulation paradigms for Deep Brain Stimulation) and for a deeper comprehension of neural coding strategies in normal and pathological conditions (e.g.
epilepsy, Parkinson disease, chronic pain). To this aim, one has to solve technical issues related to stimulation devices, stimulation paradigms and computational analyses. Therefore, a custom-made stimulation device was developed in order to deliver stimuli well regulated in space and time that does not incur in mechanical resonance. Subsequently, as an exemplification, a set of reliable LFP-spike relationships was extracted.
The performance of the device was investigated by extracellular recordings, jointly spikes and LFP responses to the applied stimuli, from the rat Primary Somatosensory cortex. Then, by means of a multi-objective optimization strategy, a predictive model for spike occurrence based on LFPs was estimated.
The application of this paradigm shows that the device is adequately suited to deliver high frequency tactile stimulation, outperforming common piezoelectric actuators. As a proof of the efficacy of the device, the following results were presented: 1) the timing and reliability of LFP responses well match the spike responses, 2) LFPs are sensitive to the stimulation history and capture not only the average response but also the trial-to-trial fluctuations in the spike activity and, finally, 3) by using the LFP signal it is possible to estimate a range of predictive models that capture different aspects of the spike activity.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, LFP, spike, tactile stimulus, Multiobjective function, Neuron, somatosensory cortex
Modeling Biological Membranes with Circuit Boards and Measuring Electrical Signals in Axons: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
This is a demonstration of how electrical models can be used to characterize biological membranes. This exercise also introduces biophysical terminology used in electrophysiology. The same equipment is used in the membrane model as on live preparations. Some properties of an isolated nerve cord are investigated: nerve action potentials, recruitment of neurons, and responsiveness of the nerve cord to environmental factors.
Basic Protocols, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, Modeling, Student laboratory, Nerve cord
Electrospun Fibrous Scaffolds of Poly(glycerol-dodecanedioate) for Engineering Neural Tissues From Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells
Institutions: Florida International University.
For tissue engineering applications, the preparation of biodegradable and biocompatible scaffolds is the most desirable but challenging task. Among the various fabrication methods, electrospinning is the most attractive one due to its simplicity and versatility. Additionally, electrospun nanofibers mimic the size of natural extracellular matrix ensuring additional support for cell survival and growth. This study showed the viability of the fabrication of long fibers spanning a larger deposit area for a novel biodegradable and biocompatible polymer named poly(glycerol-dodecanoate) (PGD)1
by using a newly designed collector for electrospinning. PGD exhibits unique elastic properties with similar mechanical properties to nerve tissues, thus it is suitable for neural tissue engineering applications. The synthesis and fabrication set-up for making fibrous scaffolding materials was simple, highly reproducible, and inexpensive. In biocompatibility testing, cells derived from mouse embryonic stem cells could adhere to and grow on the electrospun PGD fibers. In summary, this protocol provided a versatile fabrication method for making PGD electrospun fibers to support the growth of mouse embryonic stem cell derived neural lineage cells.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, tissue engineering, electrospinning, fiber scaffolds, Poly(glycerol-dodecanedioate) (PGD), gelatin, Mouse embryonic stem cells
Oscillation and Reaction Board Techniques for Estimating Inertial Properties of a Below-knee Prosthesis
Institutions: University of Northern Colorado, Arizona State University, Iowa State University.
The purpose of this study was two-fold: 1) demonstrate a technique that can be used to directly estimate the inertial properties of a below-knee prosthesis, and 2) contrast the effects of the proposed technique and that of using intact limb inertial properties on joint kinetic estimates during walking in unilateral, transtibial amputees. An oscillation and reaction board system was validated and shown to be reliable when measuring inertial properties of known geometrical solids. When direct measurements of inertial properties of the prosthesis were used in inverse dynamics modeling of the lower extremity compared with inertial estimates based on an intact shank and foot, joint kinetics at the hip and knee were significantly lower during the swing phase of walking. Differences in joint kinetics during stance, however, were smaller than those observed during swing. Therefore, researchers focusing on the swing phase of walking should consider the impact of prosthesis inertia property estimates on study outcomes. For stance, either one of the two inertial models investigated in our study would likely lead to similar outcomes with an inverse dynamics assessment.
Bioengineering, Issue 87, prosthesis inertia, amputee locomotion, below-knee prosthesis, transtibial amputee
Membrane Potentials, Synaptic Responses, Neuronal Circuitry, Neuromodulation and Muscle Histology Using the Crayfish: Student Laboratory Exercises
Institutions: University of Kentucky, University of Toronto.
The purpose of this report is to help develop an understanding of the effects caused by ion gradients across a biological membrane. Two aspects that influence a cell's membrane potential and which we address in these experiments are: (1) Ion concentration of K+
on the outside of the membrane, and (2) the permeability of the membrane to specific ions. The crayfish abdominal extensor muscles are in groupings with some being tonic (slow) and others phasic (fast) in their biochemical and physiological phenotypes, as well as in their structure; the motor neurons that innervate these muscles are correspondingly different in functional characteristics. We use these muscles as well as the superficial, tonic abdominal flexor muscle to demonstrate properties in synaptic transmission. In addition, we introduce a sensory-CNS-motor neuron-muscle circuit to demonstrate the effect of cuticular sensory stimulation as well as the influence of neuromodulators on certain aspects of the circuit. With the techniques obtained in this exercise, one can begin to answer many questions remaining in other experimental preparations as well as in physiological applications related to medicine and health. We have demonstrated the usefulness of model invertebrate preparations to address fundamental questions pertinent to all animals.
Neuroscience, Issue 47, Invertebrate, Crayfish, neurophysiology, muscle, anatomy, electrophysiology
Quantification and Size-profiling of Extracellular Vesicles Using Tunable Resistive Pulse Sensing
Institutions: University Medical Center Utrecht, University Medical Center Utrecht.
Extracellular vesicles (EVs), including ‘microvesicles’ and ‘exosomes’, are highly abundant in bodily fluids. Recent years have witnessed a tremendous increase in interest in EVs. EVs have been shown to play important roles in various physiological and pathological processes, including coagulation, immune responses, and cancer. In addition, EVs have potential as therapeutic agents, for instance as drug delivery vehicles or as regenerative medicine. Because of their small size (50 to 1,000 nm) accurate quantification and size profiling of EVs is technically challenging.
This protocol describes how tunable resistive pulse sensing (tRPS) technology, using the qNano system, can be used to determine the concentration and size of EVs. The method, which relies on the detection of EVs upon their transfer through a nano sized pore, is relatively fast, suffices the use of small sample volumes and does not require the purification and concentration of EVs. Next to the regular operation protocol an alternative approach is described using samples spiked with polystyrene beads of known size and concentration. This real-time calibration technique can be used to overcome technical hurdles encountered when measuring EVs directly in biological fluids.
Bioengineering, Issue 92, exosomes, microvesicles, extracellular vesicles, quantification, characterization, Tunable Resistive Pulse Sensing, qNano
Nanofabrication of Gate-defined GaAs/AlGaAs Lateral Quantum Dots
Institutions: Université de Sherbrooke.
A quantum computer is a computer composed of quantum bits (qubits) that takes advantage of quantum effects, such as superposition of states and entanglement, to solve certain problems exponentially faster than with the best known algorithms on a classical computer. Gate-defined lateral quantum dots on GaAs/AlGaAs are one of many avenues explored for the implementation of a qubit. When properly fabricated, such a device is able to trap a small number of electrons in a certain region of space. The spin states of these electrons can then be used to implement the logical 0 and 1 of the quantum bit. Given the nanometer scale of these quantum dots, cleanroom facilities offering specialized equipment- such as scanning electron microscopes and e-beam evaporators- are required for their fabrication. Great care must be taken throughout the fabrication process to maintain cleanliness of the sample surface and to avoid damaging the fragile gates of the structure. This paper presents the detailed fabrication protocol of gate-defined lateral quantum dots from the wafer to a working device. Characterization methods and representative results are also briefly discussed. Although this paper concentrates on double quantum dots, the fabrication process remains the same for single or triple dots or even arrays of quantum dots. Moreover, the protocol can be adapted to fabricate lateral quantum dots on other substrates, such as Si/SiGe.
Physics, Issue 81, Nanostructures, Quantum Dots, Nanotechnology, Electronics, microelectronics, solid state physics, Nanofabrication, Nanoelectronics, Spin qubit, Lateral quantum dot
Electrophysiological Recording From Drosophila Labellar Taste Sensilla
Institutions: Yale University.
The peripheral taste response of insects can be powerfully investigated with electrophysiological techniques. The method described here allows the researcher to measure gustatory responses directly and quantitatively, reflecting the sensory input that the insect nervous system receives from taste stimuli in its environment. This protocol outlines all key steps in performing this technique. The critical steps in assembling an electrophysiology rig, such as selection of necessary equipment and a suitable environment for recording, are delineated. We also describe how to prepare for recording by making appropriate reference and recording electrodes, and tastant solutions. We describe in detail the method used for preparing the insect by insertion of a glass reference electrode into the fly in order to immobilize the proboscis. We show traces of the electrical impulses fired by taste neurons in response to a sugar and a bitter compound. Aspects of the protocol are technically challenging and we include an extensive description of some common technical challenges that may be encountered, such as lack of signal or excessive noise in the system, and potential solutions. The technique has limitations, such as the inability to deliver temporally complex stimuli, observe background firing immediately prior to stimulus delivery, or use water-insoluble taste compounds conveniently. Despite these limitations, this technique (including minor variations referenced in the protocol) is a standard, broadly accepted procedure for recording Drosophila
neuronal responses to taste compounds.
Neuroscience, Issue 84, Drosophila, insect, taste, neuron, electrophysiology, labellum, extracellular recording, labellar taste sensilla
Electrospinning Fundamentals: Optimizing Solution and Apparatus Parameters
Institutions: University of Michigan, Southeast University, University of Michigan, Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare Center.
Electrospun nanofiber scaffolds have been shown to accelerate the maturation, improve the growth, and direct the migration of cells in vitro
. Electrospinning is a process in which a charged polymer jet is collected on a grounded collector; a rapidly rotating collector results in aligned nanofibers while stationary collectors result in randomly oriented fiber mats. The polymer jet is formed when an applied electrostatic charge overcomes the surface tension of the solution. There is a minimum concentration for a given polymer, termed the critical entanglement concentration, below which a stable jet cannot be achieved and no nanofibers will form - although nanoparticles may be achieved (electrospray). A stable jet has two domains, a streaming segment and a whipping segment. While the whipping jet is usually invisible to the naked eye, the streaming segment is often visible under appropriate lighting conditions. Observing the length, thickness, consistency and movement of the stream is useful to predict the alignment and morphology of the nanofibers being formed. A short, non-uniform, inconsistent, and/or oscillating stream is indicative of a variety of problems, including poor fiber alignment, beading, splattering, and curlicue or wavy patterns. The stream can be optimized by adjusting the composition of the solution and the configuration of the electrospinning apparatus, thus optimizing the alignment and morphology of the fibers being produced. In this protocol, we present a procedure for setting up a basic electrospinning apparatus, empirically approximating the critical entanglement concentration of a polymer solution and optimizing the electrospinning process. In addition, we discuss some common problems and troubleshooting techniques.
Bioengineering, Issue 47, electrospinning, nanofibers, scaffold, alignment
Morris Water Maze Test for Learning and Memory Deficits in Alzheimer's Disease Model Mice
Institutions: University of British Columbia.
The Morris Water Maze (MWM) was first established by neuroscientist Richard G. Morris in 1981 in order to test hippocampal-dependent learning, including acquisition of spatial memoryand long-term spatial memory 1
. The MWM is a relatively simple procedure typically consisting of six day trials, the main advantage being the differentiation between the spatial (hidden-platform) and non-spatial (visible platform) conditions 2-4
. In addition, the MWM testing environment reduces odor trail interference 5
. This has led the task to be used extensively in the study of the neurobiology and neuropharmacology of spatial learning and memory. The MWM plays an important role in the validation of rodent models for neurocognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease 6, 7
. In this protocol we discussed the typical procedure of MWM for testing learning and memory and data analysis commonly used in Alzheimer’s disease transgenic model mice.
Neuroscience, Issue 53, Morris Water Maze, spatial memory testing, hippocampal dependent learning, Alzheimer's Disease
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
A Lightweight, Headphones-based System for Manipulating Auditory Feedback in Songbirds
Institutions: Emory University, Emory University, Emory University.
Experimental manipulations of sensory feedback during complex behavior have provided valuable insights into the computations underlying motor control and sensorimotor plasticity1
. Consistent sensory perturbations result in compensatory changes in motor output, reflecting changes in feedforward motor control that reduce the experienced feedback error. By quantifying how different sensory feedback errors affect human behavior, prior studies have explored how visual signals are used to recalibrate arm movements2,3
and auditory feedback is used to modify speech production4-7
. The strength of this approach rests on the ability to mimic naturalistic errors in behavior, allowing the experimenter to observe how experienced errors in production are used to recalibrate motor output.
Songbirds provide an excellent animal model for investigating the neural basis of sensorimotor control and plasticity8,9
. The songbird brain provides a well-defined circuit in which the areas necessary for song learning are spatially separated from those required for song production, and neural recording and lesion studies have made significant advances in understanding how different brain areas contribute to vocal behavior9-12
. However, the lack of a naturalistic error-correction paradigm - in which a known acoustic parameter is perturbed by the experimenter and then corrected by the songbird - has made it difficult to understand the computations underlying vocal learning or how different elements of the neural circuit contribute to the correction of vocal errors13
The technique described here gives the experimenter precise control over auditory feedback errors in singing birds, allowing the introduction of arbitrary sensory errors that can be used to drive vocal learning. Online sound-processing equipment is used to introduce a known perturbation to the acoustics of song, and a miniaturized headphones apparatus is used to replace a songbird's natural auditory feedback with the perturbed signal in real time. We have used this paradigm to perturb the fundamental frequency (pitch) of auditory feedback in adult songbirds, providing the first demonstration that adult birds maintain vocal performance using error correction14
. The present protocol can be used to implement a wide range of sensory feedback perturbations (including but not limited to pitch shifts) to investigate the computational and neurophysiological basis of vocal learning.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Anatomy, Physiology, Zoology, Behavior, Songbird, psychophysics, auditory feedback, biology, sensorimotor learning
A Protocol for Computer-Based Protein Structure and Function Prediction
Institutions: University of Michigan , University of Kansas.
Genome sequencing projects have ciphered millions of protein sequence, which require knowledge of their structure and function to improve the understanding of their biological role. Although experimental methods can provide detailed information for a small fraction of these proteins, computational modeling is needed for the majority of protein molecules which are experimentally uncharacterized. The I-TASSER server is an on-line workbench for high-resolution modeling of protein structure and function. Given a protein sequence, a typical output from the I-TASSER server includes secondary structure prediction, predicted solvent accessibility of each residue, homologous template proteins detected by threading and structure alignments, up to five full-length tertiary structural models, and structure-based functional annotations for enzyme classification, Gene Ontology terms and protein-ligand binding sites. All the predictions are tagged with a confidence score which tells how accurate the predictions are without knowing the experimental data. To facilitate the special requests of end users, the server provides channels to accept user-specified inter-residue distance and contact maps to interactively change the I-TASSER modeling; it also allows users to specify any proteins as template, or to exclude any template proteins during the structure assembly simulations. The structural information could be collected by the users based on experimental evidences or biological insights with the purpose of improving the quality of I-TASSER predictions. The server was evaluated as the best programs for protein structure and function predictions in the recent community-wide CASP experiments. There are currently >20,000 registered scientists from over 100 countries who are using the on-line I-TASSER server.
Biochemistry, Issue 57, On-line server, I-TASSER, protein structure prediction, function prediction
A Video Demonstration of Preserved Piloting by Scent Tracking but Impaired Dead Reckoning After Fimbria-Fornix Lesions in the Rat
Institutions: Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, University of Lethbridge.
Piloting and dead reckoning navigation strategies use very different cue constellations and computational processes (Darwin, 1873; Barlow, 1964; O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; Mittelstaedt and Mittelstaedt, 1980; Landeau et al., 1984; Etienne, 1987; Gallistel, 1990;
Maurer and Séguinot, 1995). Piloting requires the use of the relationships between relatively stable external (visual, olfactory, auditory) cues, whereas dead reckoning requires the integration of cues generated by self-movement. Animals obtain self-movement information from vestibular receptors, and possibly muscle and joint receptors, and efference copy of commands that generate movement. An animal may also use the flows of visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli caused by its movements. Using a piloting strategy an animal can use geometrical calculations to determine directions and distances to places in its environment, whereas using an dead reckoning strategy it can integrate cues generated by its previous movements to return to a just left location. Dead reckoning is colloquially called "sense of direction" and "sense of distance."
Although there is considerable evidence that the hippocampus is involved in piloting (O’Keefe and Nadel, 1978; O’Keefe and Speakman, 1987), there is also evidence from behavioral (Whishaw et al., 1997; Whishaw and Maaswinkel, 1998; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999), modeling (Samsonovich and McNaughton, 1997), and electrophysiological (O’Mare et al., 1994; Sharp et al., 1995; Taube and Burton, 1995; Blair and Sharp, 1996; McNaughton et al., 1996; Wiener, 1996; Golob and Taube, 1997) studies that the hippocampal formation is involved in dead reckoning. The relative contribution of the hippocampus to the two forms of navigation is still uncertain, however. Ordinarily, it is difficult to be certain that an animal is using a piloting versus a dead reckoning strategy because animals are very flexible in their use of strategies and cues (Etienne et al., 1996; Dudchenko et al., 1997; Martin et al., 1997; Maaswinkel and Whishaw, 1999). The objective of the present video demonstrations was to solve the problem of cue specification in order to examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus in the use of these strategies. The rats were trained in a new task in which they followed linear or polygon scented trails to obtain a large food pellet hidden on an open field. Because rats have a proclivity to carry the food back to the refuge, accuracy and the cues used to return to the home base were dependent variables (Whishaw and Tomie, 1997). To force an animal to use a a dead reckoning strategy to reach its refuge with the food, the rats were tested when blindfolded or under infrared light, a spectral wavelength in which they cannot see, and in some experiments the scent trail was additionally removed once an animal reached the food. To examine the relative contribution of the hippocampus, fimbria–fornix (FF) lesions, which disrupt information flow in the hippocampal formation (Bland, 1986), impair memory (Gaffan and Gaffan, 1991), and produce spatial deficits (Whishaw and Jarrard, 1995), were used.
Neuroscience, Issue 26, Dead reckoning, fimbria-fornix, hippocampus, odor tracking, path integration, spatial learning, spatial navigation, piloting, rat, Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience
Long-term Behavioral Tracking of Freely Swimming Weakly Electric Fish
Institutions: University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa.
Long-term behavioral tracking can capture and quantify natural animal behaviors, including those occurring infrequently. Behaviors such as exploration and social interactions can be best studied by observing unrestrained, freely behaving animals. Weakly electric fish (WEF) display readily observable exploratory and social behaviors by emitting electric organ discharge (EOD). Here, we describe three effective techniques to synchronously measure the EOD, body position, and posture of a free-swimming WEF for an extended period of time. First, we describe the construction of an experimental tank inside of an isolation chamber designed to block external sources of sensory stimuli such as light, sound, and vibration. The aquarium was partitioned to accommodate four test specimens, and automated gates remotely control the animals' access to the central arena. Second, we describe a precise and reliable real-time EOD timing measurement method from freely swimming WEF. Signal distortions caused by the animal's body movements are corrected by spatial averaging and temporal processing stages. Third, we describe an underwater near-infrared imaging setup to observe unperturbed nocturnal animal behaviors. Infrared light pulses were used to synchronize the timing between the video and the physiological signal over a long recording duration. Our automated tracking software measures the animal's body position and posture reliably in an aquatic scene. In combination, these techniques enable long term observation of spontaneous behavior of freely swimming weakly electric fish in a reliable and precise manner. We believe our method can be similarly applied to the study of other aquatic animals by relating their physiological signals with exploratory or social behaviors.
Neuroscience, Issue 85, animal tracking, weakly electric fish, electric organ discharge, underwater infrared imaging, automated image tracking, sensory isolation chamber, exploratory behavior
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
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
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
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
Quantitative Live Cell Fluorescence-microscopy Analysis of Fission Yeast
Institutions: University of Uppsala, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.
Several microscopy techniques are available today that can detect a specific protein within the cell. During the last decade live cell imaging using fluorochromes like Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) directly attached to the protein of interest has become increasingly popular 1
. Using GFP and similar fluorochromes the subcellular localisations and movements of proteins can be detected in a fluorescent microscope. Moreover, also the subnuclear localisation of a certain region of a chromosome can be studied using this technique. GFP is fused to the Lac Repressor protein (LacR) and ectopically expressed in the cell where tandem repeats of the lacO
sequence has been inserted into the region of interest on the chromosome2
. The LacR-GFP will bind to the lacO
repeats and that area of the genome will be visible as a green dot in the fluorescence microscope. Yeast is especially suited for this type of manipulation since homologous recombination is very efficient and thereby enables targeted integration of the lacO
repeats and engineered fusion proteins with GFP 3
. Here we describe a quantitative method for live cell analysis of fission yeast. Additional protocols for live cell analysis of fission yeast can be found, for example on how to make a movie of the meiotic chromosomal behaviour 4
. In this particular experiment we focus on subnuclear organisation and how it is affected during gene induction. We have labelled a gene cluster, named Chr1, by the introduction of lacO
binding sites in the vicinity of the genes. The gene cluster is enriched for genes that are induced early during nitrogen starvation of fission yeast 5
. In the strain the nuclear membrane (NM) is labelled by the attachment of mCherry to the NM protein Cut11 giving rise to a red fluorescent signal. The Spindle Pole body (SPB) compound Sid4 is fused to Red Fluorescent Protein (Sid4-mRFP) 6
. In vegetatively growing yeast cells the centromeres are always attached to the SPB that is embedded in the NM 7
. The SPB is identified as a large round structure in the NM. By imaging before and 20 minutes after depletion of the nitrogen source we can determine the distance between the gene cluster (GFP) and the NM/SPB. The mean or median distances before and after nitrogen depletion are compared and we can thus quantify whether or not there is a shift in subcellular localisation of the gene cluster after nitrogen depletion.
Molecular Biology, Issue 59, Fission yeast, fluorescence microscopy, nuclear organisation, chromatin, GFP
A Low Cost Setup for Behavioral Audiometry in Rodents
Institutions: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.
In auditory animal research it is crucial to have precise information about basic hearing parameters of the animal subjects that are involved in the experiments. Such parameters may be physiological response characteristics of the auditory pathway, e.g.
via brainstem audiometry (BERA). But these methods allow only indirect and uncertain extrapolations about the auditory percept that corresponds to these physiological parameters. To assess the perceptual level of hearing, behavioral methods have to be used. A potential problem with the use of behavioral methods for the description of perception in animal models is the fact that most of these methods involve some kind of learning paradigm before the subjects can be behaviorally tested, e.g.
animals may have to learn to press a lever in response to a sound. As these learning paradigms change perception itself 1,2
they consequently will influence any result about perception obtained with these methods and therefore have to be interpreted with caution. Exceptions are paradigms that make use of reflex responses, because here no learning paradigms have to be carried out prior to perceptual testing. One such reflex response is the acoustic startle response (ASR) that can highly reproducibly be elicited with unexpected loud sounds in naïve animals. This ASR in turn can be influenced by preceding sounds depending on the perceptibility of this preceding stimulus: Sounds well above hearing threshold will completely inhibit the amplitude of the ASR; sounds close to threshold will only slightly inhibit the ASR. This phenomenon is called pre-pulse inhibition (PPI) 3,4
, and the amount of PPI on the ASR gradually depends on the perceptibility of the pre-pulse. PPI of the ASR is therefore well suited to determine behavioral audiograms in naïve, non-trained animals, to determine hearing impairments or even to detect possible subjective tinnitus percepts in these animals. In this paper we demonstrate the use of this method in a rodent model (cf. also ref. 5
), the Mongolian gerbil (Meriones unguiculatus), which is a well know model species for startle response research within the normal human hearing range (e.g. 6
Neuroscience, Issue 68, Physiology, Anatomy, Medicine, otolaryngology, behavior, auditory startle response, pre-pulse inhibition, audiogram, tinnitus, hearing loss
C. elegans Tracking and Behavioral Measurement
Institutions: University of Toronto, Vrije Universiteit, Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, University of Toronto.
We have developed instrumentation, image processing, and data analysis techniques to quantify the locomotory behavior of C. elegans
as it crawls on the surface of an agar plate. For the study of the genetic, biochemical, and neuronal basis of behavior, C. elegans
is an ideal organism because it is genetically tractable, amenable to microscopy, and shows a number of complex behaviors, including taxis, learning, and social interaction1,2
. Behavioral analysis based on tracking the movements of worms as they crawl on agar plates have been particularly useful in the study of sensory behavior3
, and general mutational phenotyping5
. Our system works by moving the camera and illumination system as the worms crawls on a stationary agar plate, which ensures no mechanical stimulus is transmitted to the worm. Our tracking system is easy to use and includes a semi-automatic calibration feature. A challenge of all video tracking systems is that it generates an enormous amount of data that is intrinsically high dimensional. Our image processing and data analysis programs deal with this challenge by reducing the worms shape into a set of independent components, which comprehensively reconstruct the worms behavior as a function of only 3-4 dimensions6,7
. As an example of the process we show that the worm enters and exits its reversal state in a phase specific manner.
Neuroscience, Issue 69, Physics, Biophysics, Anatomy, Microscopy, Ethology, Behavior, Machine Vision, C. elegans, animal model
Nanotopology of Cell Adhesion upon Variable-Angle Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscopy (VA-TIRFM)
Institutions: Institut für Angewandte Forschung.
Surface topology, e.g.
of cells growing on a substrate, is determined with nanometer precision by Variable-Angle Total Internal Reflection Fluorescence Microscopy (VA-TIRFM). Cells are cultivated on transparent slides and incubated with a fluorescent marker homogeneously distributed in their plasma membrane. Illumination occurs by a parallel laser beam under variable angles of total internal reflection (TIR) with different penetration depths of the evanescent electromagnetic field. Recording of fluorescence images upon irradiation at about 10 different angles permits to calculate cell-substrate distances with a precision of a few nanometers. Differences of adhesion between various cell lines, e.g.
cancer cells and less malignant cells, are thus determined. In addition, possible changes of cell adhesion upon chemical or photodynamic treatment can be examined. In comparison with other methods of super-resolution microscopy light exposure is kept very small, and no damage of living cells is expected to occur.
Bioengineering, Issue 68, Cellular Biology, Molecular Biology, Biophysics, Physics, Cell adhesion, fluorescence microscopy, TIRFM, nanotopology