Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
23 Related JoVE Articles!
Local and Global Methods of Assessing Thermal Nociception in Drosophila Larvae
Institutions: The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, University of Houston-Downtown, University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
In this article, we demonstrate assays to study thermal nociception in Drosophila
larvae. One assay involves spatially-restricted (local) stimulation of thermal nociceptors1,2
while the second involves a wholesale (global) activation of most or all such neurons3
. Together, these techniques allow visualization and quantification of the behavioral functions of Drosophila
nociceptive sensory neurons.
larva is an established model system to study thermal nociception, a sensory response to potentially harmful temperatures that is evolutionarily conserved across species1,2
. The advantages of Drosophila
for such studies are the relative simplicity of its nervous system and the sophistication of the genetic techniques that can be used to dissect the molecular basis of the underlying biology4-6
, as in all metazoans, the response to noxious thermal stimuli generally involves a "nocifensive" aversive withdrawal to the presented stimulus7
. Such stimuli are detected through free nerve endings or nociceptors and the amplitude of the organismal response depends on the number of nociceptors receiving the noxious stimulus8
. In Drosophila
, it is the class IV dendritic arborization sensory neurons that detect noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli9
in addition to their recently discovered role as photoreceptors10
. These neurons, which have been very well studied at the developmental level, arborize over the barrier epidermal sheet and make contacts with nearly all epidermal cells11,12
. The single axon of each class IV neuron projects into the ventral nerve cord of the central nervous system11
where they may connect to second-order neurons that project to the brain.
Under baseline conditions, nociceptive sensory neurons will not fire until a relatively high threshold is reached. The assays described here allow the investigator to quantify baseline behavioral responses or, presumably, the sensitization that ensues following tissue damage. Each assay provokes distinct but related locomotory behavioral responses to noxious thermal stimuli and permits the researcher to visualize and quantify various aspects of thermal nociception in Drosophila
larvae. The assays can be applied to larvae of desired genotypes or to larvae raised under different environmental conditions that might impact nociception. Since thermal nociception is conserved across species, the findings gleaned from genetic dissection in Drosophila
will likely inform our understanding of thermal nociception in other species, including vertebrates.
Neuroscience, Issue 63, Drosophila sensory neurons, thermal nociception, nociceptive sensitization, tissue damage, fly behavioral response, dendritic arborization neurons, allodynia, hyperalgesia, behavioral assay
Laboratory-determined Phosphorus Flux from Lake Sediments as a Measure of Internal Phosphorus Loading
Institutions: Grand Valley State University.
Eutrophication is a water quality issue in lakes worldwide, and there is a critical need to identify and control nutrient sources. Internal phosphorus (P) loading from lake sediments can account for a substantial portion of the total P load in eutrophic, and some mesotrophic, lakes. Laboratory determination of P release rates from sediment cores is one approach for determining the role of internal P loading and guiding management decisions. Two principal alternatives to experimental determination of sediment P release exist for estimating internal load: in situ
measurements of changes in hypolimnetic P over time and P mass balance. The experimental approach using laboratory-based sediment incubations to quantify internal P load is a direct method, making it a valuable tool for lake management and restoration.
Laboratory incubations of sediment cores can help determine the relative importance of internal vs. external P loads, as well as be used to answer a variety of lake management and research questions. We illustrate the use of sediment core incubations to assess the effectiveness of an aluminum sulfate (alum) treatment for reducing sediment P release. Other research questions that can be investigated using this approach include the effects of sediment resuspension and bioturbation on P release.
The approach also has limitations. Assumptions must be made with respect to: extrapolating results from sediment cores to the entire lake; deciding over what time periods to measure nutrient release; and addressing possible core tube artifacts. A comprehensive dissolved oxygen monitoring strategy to assess temporal and spatial redox status in the lake provides greater confidence in annual P loads estimated from sediment core incubations.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 85, Limnology, internal loading, eutrophication, nutrient flux, sediment coring, phosphorus, lakes
Analysis of Translation Initiation During Stress Conditions by Polysome Profiling
Institutions: Laval University, CHU de Quebec Research Center.
Precise control of mRNA translation is fundamental for eukaryotic cell homeostasis, particularly in response to physiological and pathological stress. Alterations of this program can lead to the growth of damaged cells, a hallmark of cancer development, or to premature cell death such as seen in neurodegenerative diseases. Much of what is known concerning the molecular basis for translational control has been obtained from polysome analysis using a density gradient fractionation system. This technique relies on ultracentrifugation of cytoplasmic extracts on a linear sucrose gradient. Once the spin is completed, the system allows fractionation and quantification of centrifuged zones corresponding to different translating ribosomes populations, thus resulting in a polysome profile. Changes in the polysome profile are indicative of changes or defects in translation initiation that occur in response to various types of stress. This technique also allows to assess the role of specific proteins on translation initiation, and to measure translational activity of specific mRNAs. Here we describe our protocol to perform polysome profiles in order to assess translation initiation of eukaryotic cells and tissues under either normal or stress growth conditions.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Translation initiation, polysome profile, sucrose gradient, protein and RNA isolation, stress conditions
Assessment and Evaluation of the High Risk Neonate: The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale
Institutions: Brown University, Women & Infants Hospital of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts, Boston.
There has been a long-standing interest in the assessment of the neurobehavioral integrity of the newborn infant. The NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale (NNNS) was developed as an assessment for the at-risk infant. These are infants who are at increased risk for poor developmental outcome because of insults during prenatal development, such as substance exposure or prematurity or factors such as poverty, poor nutrition or lack of prenatal care that can have adverse effects on the intrauterine environment and affect the developing fetus. The NNNS assesses the full range of infant neurobehavioral performance including neurological integrity, behavioral functioning, and signs of stress/abstinence. The NNNS is a noninvasive neonatal assessment tool with demonstrated validity as a predictor, not only of medical outcomes such as cerebral palsy diagnosis, neurological abnormalities, and diseases with risks to the brain, but also of developmental outcomes such as mental and motor functioning, behavior problems, school readiness, and IQ. The NNNS can identify infants at high risk for abnormal developmental outcome and is an important clinical tool that enables medical researchers and health practitioners to identify these infants and develop intervention programs to optimize the development of these infants as early as possible. The video shows the NNNS procedures, shows examples of normal and abnormal performance and the various clinical populations in which the exam can be used.
Behavior, Issue 90, NICU Network Neurobehavioral Scale, NNNS, High risk infant, Assessment, Evaluation, Prediction, Long term outcome
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
Development of a Virtual Reality Assessment of Everyday Living Skills
Institutions: NeuroCog Trials, Inc., Duke-NUS Graduate Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, Fox Evaluation and Consulting, PLLC, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Cognitive impairments affect the majority of patients with schizophrenia and these impairments predict poor long term psychosocial outcomes. Treatment studies aimed at cognitive impairment in patients with schizophrenia not only require demonstration of improvements on cognitive tests, but also evidence that any cognitive changes lead to clinically meaningful improvements. Measures of “functional capacity” index the extent to which individuals have the potential to perform skills required for real world functioning. Current data do not support the recommendation of any single instrument for measurement of functional capacity. The Virtual Reality Functional Capacity Assessment Tool (VRFCAT) is a novel, interactive gaming based measure of functional capacity that uses a realistic simulated environment to recreate routine activities of daily living. Studies are currently underway to evaluate and establish the VRFCAT’s sensitivity, reliability, validity, and practicality. This new measure of functional capacity is practical, relevant, easy to use, and has several features that improve validity and sensitivity of measurement of function in clinical trials of patients with CNS disorders.
Behavior, Issue 86, Virtual Reality, Cognitive Assessment, Functional Capacity, Computer Based Assessment, Schizophrenia, Neuropsychology, Aging, Dementia
Intra-Operative Behavioral Tasks in Awake Humans Undergoing Deep Brain Stimulation Surgery
Institutions: Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital.
Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a surgical procedure that directs chronic, high frequency electrical stimulation to specific targets in the brain through implanted electrodes. Deep brain stimulation was first implemented as a therapeutic modality by Benabid et al.
in the late 1980s, when he used this technique to stimulate the ventral intermediate nucleus of the thalamus for the treatment of tremor 1
. Currently, the procedure is used to treat patients who fail to respond adequately to medical management for diseases such as Parkinson's, dystonia, and essential tremor. The efficacy of this procedure for the treatment of Parkinson's disease has been demonstrated in well-powered, randomized controlled trials 2
. Presently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved DBS as a treatment for patients with medically refractory essential tremor, Parkinson's disease, and dystonia. Additionally, DBS is currently being evaluated for the treatment of other psychiatric and neurological disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, and epilepsy.
DBS has not only been shown to help people by improving their quality of life, it also provides researchers with the unique opportunity to study and understand the human brain. Microelectrode recordings are routinely performed during DBS surgery in order to enhance the precision of anatomical targeting. Firing patterns of individual neurons can therefore be recorded while the subject performs a behavioral task. Early studies using these data focused on descriptive aspects, including firing and burst rates, and frequency modulation 3
. More recent studies have focused on cognitive aspects of behavior in relation to neuronal activity 4,5
. This article will provide a description of the intra-operative methods used to perform behavioral tasks and record neuronal data with awake patients during DBS cases. Our exposition of the process of acquiring electrophysiological data will illuminate the current scope and limitations of intra-operative human experiments.
Medicine, Issue 47, Intra-Operative Physiology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Behavioral Neuroscience, Subthalamic Nucleus, Single-Unit Activity, Parkinson Disease, Deep Brain Stimulation
Psychophysiological Stress Assessment Using Biofeedback
Institutions: Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School.
In the last half century, research in biofeedback has shown the extent to which the human mind can influence the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, previously thought to be outside of conscious control. By letting people observe signals from their own bodies, biofeedback enables them to develop greater awareness of their physiological and psychological reactions, such as stress, and to learn to modify these reactions. Biofeedback practitioners can facilitate this process by assessing people s reactions to mildly stressful events and formulating a biofeedback-based treatment plan. During stress assessment the practitioner first records a baseline for physiological readings, and then presents the client with several mild stressors, such as a cognitive, physical and emotional stressor. Variety of stressors is presented in order to determine a person's stimulus-response specificity, or differences in each person's reaction to qualitatively different stimuli. This video will demonstrate the process of psychophysiological stress assessment using biofeedback and present general guidelines for treatment planning.
Neuroscience, Issue 29, Stress, biofeedback, psychophysiological, assessment
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
The Measurement and Treatment of Suppression in Amblyopia
Institutions: University of Auckland, McGill University , McGill University .
Amblyopia, a developmental disorder of the visual cortex, is one of the leading causes of visual dysfunction in the working age population. Current estimates put the prevalence of amblyopia at approximately 1-3%1-3
, the majority of cases being monocular2
. Amblyopia is most frequently caused by ocular misalignment (strabismus), blur induced by unequal refractive error (anisometropia), and in some cases by form deprivation.
Although amblyopia is initially caused by abnormal visual input in infancy, once established, the visual deficit often remains when normal visual input has been restored using surgery and/or refractive correction. This is because amblyopia is the result of abnormal visual cortex development rather than a problem with the amblyopic eye itself4,5
. Amblyopia is characterized by both monocular and binocular deficits6,7
which include impaired visual acuity and poor or absent stereopsis respectively. The visual dysfunction in amblyopia is often associated with a strong suppression of the inputs from the amblyopic eye under binocular viewing conditions8
. Recent work has indicated that suppression may play a central role in both the monocular and binocular deficits associated with amblyopia9,10
Current clinical tests for suppression tend to verify the presence or absence of suppression rather than giving a quantitative measurement of the degree of suppression. Here we describe a technique for measuring amblyopic suppression with a compact, portable device11,12
. The device consists of a laptop computer connected to a pair of virtual reality goggles. The novelty of the technique lies in the way we present visual stimuli to measure suppression. Stimuli are shown to the amblyopic eye at high contrast while the contrast of the stimuli shown to the non-amblyopic eye are varied. Patients perform a simple signal/noise task that allows for a precise measurement of the strength of excitatory binocular interactions. The contrast offset at which neither eye has a performance advantage is a measure of the "balance point" and is a direct measure of suppression. This technique has been validated psychophysically both in control13,14
In addition to measuring suppression this technique also forms the basis of a novel form of treatment to decrease suppression over time and improve binocular and often monocular function in adult patients with amblyopia12,15,16
. This new treatment approach can be deployed either on the goggle system described above or on a specially modified iPod touch device15
Medicine, Issue 70, Ophthalmology, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Amblyopia, suppression, visual cortex, binocular vision, plasticity, strabismus, anisometropia
Measuring the Subjective Value of Risky and Ambiguous Options using Experimental Economics and Functional MRI Methods
Institutions: Yale School of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New York University , New York University , New York University .
Most of the choices we make have uncertain consequences. In some cases the probabilities for different possible outcomes are precisely known, a condition termed "risky". In other cases when probabilities cannot be estimated, this is a condition described as "ambiguous". While most people are averse to both risk and ambiguity1,2
, the degree of those aversions vary substantially across individuals, such that the subjective value
of the same risky or ambiguous option can be very different for different individuals. We combine functional MRI (fMRI) with an experimental economics-based method3
to assess the neural representation of the subjective values of risky and ambiguous options4
. This technique can be now used to study these neural representations in different populations, such as different age groups and different patient populations.
In our experiment, subjects make consequential choices between two alternatives while their neural activation is tracked using fMRI. On each trial subjects choose between lotteries that vary in their monetary amount and in either the probability of winning that amount or the ambiguity level associated with winning. Our parametric design allows us to use each individual's choice behavior to estimate their attitudes towards risk and ambiguity, and thus to estimate the subjective values that each option held for them. Another important feature of the design is that the outcome of the chosen lottery is not revealed during the experiment, so that no learning can take place, and thus the ambiguous options remain ambiguous and risk attitudes are stable. Instead, at the end of the scanning session one or few trials are randomly selected and played for real money. Since subjects do not know beforehand which trials will be selected, they must treat each and every trial as if it and it alone was the one trial on which they will be paid. This design ensures that we can estimate the true subjective value of each option to each subject. We then look for areas in the brain whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of risky options and for areas whose activation is correlated with the subjective value of ambiguous options.
Neuroscience, Issue 67, Medicine, Molecular Biology, fMRI, magnetic resonance imaging, decision-making, value, uncertainty, risk, ambiguity
A Multi-Modal Approach to Assessing Recovery in Youth Athletes Following Concussion
Institutions: Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Concussion is one of the most commonly reported injuries amongst children and youth involved in sport participation. Following a concussion, youth can experience a range of short and long term neurobehavioral symptoms (somatic, cognitive and emotional/behavioral) that can have a significant impact on one’s participation in daily activities and pursuits of interest (e.g.,
school, sports, work, family/social life, etc.
). Despite this, there remains a paucity in clinically driven research aimed specifically at exploring concussion within the youth sport population, and more specifically, multi-modal approaches to measuring recovery. This article provides an overview of a novel and multi-modal approach to measuring recovery amongst youth athletes following concussion. The presented approach involves the use of both pre-injury/baseline testing and post-injury/follow-up testing to assess performance across a wide variety of domains (post-concussion symptoms, cognition, balance, strength, agility/motor skills and resting state heart rate variability). The goal of this research is to gain a more objective and accurate understanding of recovery following concussion in youth athletes (ages 10-18 years). Findings from this research can help to inform the development and use of improved approaches to concussion management and rehabilitation specific to the youth sport community.
Medicine, Issue 91, concussion, children, youth, athletes, assessment, management, rehabilitation
Combining Computer Game-Based Behavioural Experiments With High-Density EEG and Infrared Gaze Tracking
Institutions: Cornell University, University of Chicago, Manesar, India.
Experimental paradigms are valuable insofar as the timing and other parameters of their stimuli are well specified and controlled, and insofar as they yield data relevant to the cognitive processing that occurs under ecologically valid conditions. These two goals often are at odds, since well controlled stimuli often are too repetitive to sustain subjects' motivation. Studies employing electroencephalography (EEG) are often especially sensitive to this dilemma between ecological validity and experimental control: attaining sufficient signal-to-noise in physiological averages demands large numbers of repeated trials within lengthy recording sessions, limiting the subject pool to individuals with the ability and patience to perform a set task over and over again. This constraint severely limits researchers' ability to investigate younger populations as well as clinical populations associated with heightened anxiety or attentional abnormalities. Even adult, non-clinical subjects may not be able to achieve their typical levels of performance or cognitive engagement: an unmotivated subject for whom an experimental task is little more than a chore is not the same, behaviourally, cognitively, or neurally, as a subject who is intrinsically motivated and engaged with the task. A growing body of literature demonstrates that embedding experiments within video games may provide a way between the horns of this dilemma between experimental control and ecological validity. The narrative of a game provides a more realistic context in which tasks occur, enhancing their ecological validity (Chaytor & Schmitter-Edgecombe, 2003). Moreover, this context provides motivation to complete tasks. In our game, subjects perform various missions to collect resources, fend off pirates, intercept communications or facilitate diplomatic relations. In so doing, they also perform an array of cognitive tasks, including a Posner attention-shifting paradigm (Posner, 1980), a go/no-go test of motor inhibition, a psychophysical motion coherence threshold task, the Embedded Figures Test (Witkin, 1950, 1954) and a theory-of-mind (Wimmer & Perner, 1983) task. The game software automatically registers game stimuli and subjects' actions and responses in a log file, and sends event codes to synchronise with physiological data recorders. Thus the game can be combined with physiological measures such as EEG or fMRI, and with moment-to-moment tracking of gaze. Gaze tracking can verify subjects' compliance with behavioural tasks (e.g. fixation) and overt attention to experimental stimuli, and also physiological arousal as reflected in pupil dilation (Bradley et al.
, 2008). At great enough sampling frequencies, gaze tracking may also help assess covert attention as reflected in microsaccades - eye movements that are too small to foveate a new object, but are as rapid in onset and have the same relationship between angular distance and peak velocity as do saccades that traverse greater distances. The distribution of directions of microsaccades correlates with the (otherwise) covert direction of attention (Hafed & Clark, 2002).
Neuroscience, Issue 46, High-density EEG, ERP, ICA, gaze tracking, computer game, ecological validity
Measuring Neural and Behavioral Activity During Ongoing Computerized Social Interactions: An Examination of Event-Related Brain Potentials
Institutions: Illinois Wesleyan University.
Social exclusion is a complex social phenomenon with powerful negative consequences. Given the impact of social exclusion on mental and emotional health, an understanding of how perceptions of social exclusion develop over the course of a social interaction is important for advancing treatments aimed at lessening the harmful costs of being excluded. To date, most scientific examinations of social exclusion have looked at exclusion after a social interaction has been completed. While this has been very helpful in developing an understanding of what happens to a person following exclusion, it has not helped to clarify the moment-to-moment dynamics of the process of social exclusion. Accordingly, the current protocol was developed to obtain an improved understanding of social exclusion by examining the patterns of event-related brain activation that are present during social interactions. This protocol allows greater precision and sensitivity in detailing the social processes that lead people to feel as though they have been excluded from a social interaction. Importantly, the current protocol can be adapted to include research projects that vary the nature of exclusionary social interactions by altering how frequently participants are included, how long the periods of exclusion will last in each interaction, and when exclusion will take place during the social interactions. Further, the current protocol can be used to examine variables and constructs beyond those related to social exclusion. This capability to address a variety of applications across psychology by obtaining both neural and behavioral data during ongoing social interactions suggests the present protocol could be at the core of a developing area of scientific inquiry related to social interactions.
Behavior, Issue 93, Event-related brain potentials (ERPs), Social Exclusion, Neuroscience, N2, P3, Cognitive Control
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
Flat-floored Air-lifted Platform: A New Method for Combining Behavior with Microscopy or Electrophysiology on Awake Freely Moving Rodents
Institutions: University of Helsinki, Neurotar LTD, University of Eastern Finland, University of Helsinki.
It is widely acknowledged that the use of general anesthetics can undermine the relevance of electrophysiological or microscopical data obtained from a living animal’s brain. Moreover, the lengthy recovery from anesthesia limits the frequency of repeated recording/imaging episodes in longitudinal studies. Hence, new methods that would allow stable recordings from non-anesthetized behaving mice are expected to advance the fields of cellular and cognitive neurosciences. Existing solutions range from mere physical restraint to more sophisticated approaches, such as linear and spherical treadmills used in combination with computer-generated virtual reality. Here, a novel method is described where a head-fixed mouse can move around an air-lifted mobile homecage and explore its environment under stress-free conditions. This method allows researchers to perform behavioral tests (e.g.
, learning, habituation or novel object recognition) simultaneously with two-photon microscopic imaging and/or patch-clamp recordings, all combined in a single experiment. This video-article describes the use of the awake animal head fixation device (mobile homecage), demonstrates the procedures of animal habituation, and exemplifies a number of possible applications of the method.
Empty Value, Issue 88, awake, in vivo two-photon microscopy, blood vessels, dendrites, dendritic spines, Ca2+ imaging, intrinsic optical imaging, patch-clamp
Studying Food Reward and Motivation in Humans
Institutions: University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, University of Cambridge, Addenbrooke's Hospital.
A key challenge in studying reward processing in humans is to go beyond subjective self-report measures and quantify different aspects of reward such as hedonics, motivation, and goal value in more objective ways. This is particularly relevant for the understanding of overeating and obesity as well as their potential treatments. In this paper are described a set of measures of food-related motivation using handgrip force as a motivational measure. These methods can be used to examine changes in food related motivation with metabolic (satiety) and pharmacological manipulations and can be used to evaluate interventions targeted at overeating and obesity. However to understand food-related decision making in the complex food environment it is essential to be able to ascertain the reward goal values that guide the decisions and behavioral choices that people make. These values are hidden but it is possible to ascertain them more objectively using metrics such as the willingness to pay and a method for this is described. Both these sets of methods provide quantitative measures of motivation and goal value that can be compared within and between individuals.
Behavior, Issue 85, Food reward, motivation, grip force, willingness to pay, subliminal motivation
High-throughput Fluorometric Measurement of Potential Soil Extracellular Enzyme Activities
Institutions: Colorado State University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Colorado.
Microbes in soils and other environments produce extracellular enzymes to depolymerize and hydrolyze organic macromolecules so that they can be assimilated for energy and nutrients. Measuring soil microbial enzyme activity is crucial in understanding soil ecosystem functional dynamics. The general concept of the fluorescence enzyme assay is that synthetic C-, N-, or P-rich substrates bound with a fluorescent dye are added to soil samples. When intact, the labeled substrates do not fluoresce. Enzyme activity is measured as the increase in fluorescence as the fluorescent dyes are cleaved from their substrates, which allows them to fluoresce. Enzyme measurements can be expressed in units of molarity or activity. To perform this assay, soil slurries are prepared by combining soil with a pH buffer. The pH buffer (typically a 50 mM sodium acetate or 50 mM Tris buffer), is chosen for the buffer's particular acid dissociation constant (pKa) to best match the soil sample pH. The soil slurries are inoculated with a nonlimiting amount of fluorescently labeled (i.e.
C-, N-, or P-rich) substrate. Using soil slurries in the assay serves to minimize limitations on enzyme and substrate diffusion. Therefore, this assay controls for differences in substrate limitation, diffusion rates, and soil pH conditions; thus detecting potential enzyme activity rates as a function of the difference in enzyme concentrations (per sample).
Fluorescence enzyme assays are typically more sensitive than spectrophotometric (i.e.
colorimetric) assays, but can suffer from interference caused by impurities and the instability of many fluorescent compounds when exposed to light; so caution is required when handling fluorescent substrates. Likewise, this method only assesses potential enzyme activities under laboratory conditions when substrates are not limiting. Caution should be used when interpreting the data representing cross-site comparisons with differing temperatures or soil types, as in situ
soil type and temperature can influence enzyme kinetics.
Environmental Sciences, Issue 81, Ecological and Environmental Phenomena, Environment, Biochemistry, Environmental Microbiology, Soil Microbiology, Ecology, Eukaryota, Archaea, Bacteria, Soil extracellular enzyme activities (EEAs), fluorometric enzyme assays, substrate degradation, 4-methylumbelliferone (MUB), 7-amino-4-methylcoumarin (MUC), enzyme temperature kinetics, soil
Functional Imaging with Reinforcement, Eyetracking, and Physiological Monitoring
Institutions: Columbia University, Columbia University, Columbia University.
We use functional brain imaging (fMRI) to study neural circuits that underlie decision-making. To understand how outcomes affect decision processes, simple perceptual tasks are combined with appetitive and aversive reinforcement. However, the use of reinforcers such as juice and airpuffs can create challenges for fMRI. Reinforcer delivery can cause head movement, which creates artifacts in the fMRI signal. Reinforcement can also lead to changes in heart rate and respiration that are mediated by autonomic pathways. Changes in heart rate and respiration can directly affect the fMRI (BOLD) signal in the brain and can be confounded with signal changes that are due to neural activity. In this presentation, we demonstrate methods for administering reinforcers in a controlled manner, for stabilizing the head, and for measuring pulse and respiration.
Medicine, Issue 21, Neuroscience, Psychiatry, fMRI, Decision Making, Reward, Punishment, Pulse, Respiration, Eye Tracking, Psychology
The use of Biofeedback in Clinical Virtual Reality: The INTREPID Project
Institutions: Istituto Auxologico Italiano, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychiatric disorder characterized by a constant and unspecific anxiety that interferes with daily-life activities. Its high prevalence in general population and the severe limitations it causes, point out the necessity to find new efficient strategies to treat it. Together with the cognitive-behavioral treatments, relaxation represents a useful approach for the treatment of GAD, but it has the limitation that it is hard to be learned. The INTREPID project is aimed to implement a new instrument to treat anxiety-related disorders and to test its clinical efficacy in reducing anxiety-related symptoms. The innovation of this approach is the combination of virtual reality and biofeedback, so that the first one is directly modified by the output of the second one. In this way, the patient is made aware of his or her reactions through the modification of some features of the VR environment in real time. Using mental exercises the patient learns to control these physiological parameters and using the feedback provided by the virtual environment is able to gauge his or her success. The supplemental use of portable devices, such as PDA or smart-phones, allows the patient to perform at home, individually and autonomously, the same exercises experienced in therapist's office. The goal is to anchor the learned protocol in a real life context, so enhancing the patients' ability to deal with their symptoms. The expected result is a better and faster learning of relaxation techniques, and thus an increased effectiveness of the treatment if compared with traditional clinical protocols.
Neuroscience, Issue 33, virtual reality, biofeedback, generalized anxiety disorder, Intrepid, cybertherapy, cyberpsychology
Coherence between Brain Cortical Function and Neurocognitive Performance during Changed Gravity Conditions
Institutions: German Sport University Cologne, University of Toronto, Queensland University of Technology, Gilching, Germany.
Previous studies of cognitive, mental and/or motor processes during short-, medium- and long-term weightlessness have only been descriptive in nature, and focused on psychological aspects. Until now, objective observation of neurophysiological parameters has not been carried out - undoubtedly because the technical and methodological means have not been available -, investigations into the neurophysiological effects of weightlessness are in their infancy (Schneider et al.
While imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) would be hardly applicable in space, the non-invasive near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) technique represents a method of mapping hemodynamic processes in the brain in real time that is both relatively inexpensive and that can be employed even under extreme conditions. The combination with electroencephalography (EEG) opens up the possibility of following the electrocortical processes under changing gravity conditions with a finer temporal resolution as well as with deeper localization, for instance with electrotomography (LORETA).
Previous studies showed an increase of beta frequency activity under normal gravity conditions and a decrease under weightlessness conditions during a parabolic flight (Schneider et al.
2008a+b). Tilt studies revealed different changes in brain function, which let suggest, that changes in parabolic flight might reflect emotional processes rather than hemodynamic changes. However, it is still unclear whether these are effects of changed gravity or hemodynamic changes within the brain. Combining EEG/LORETA and NIRS should for the first time make it possible to map the effect of weightlessness and reduced gravity on both hemodynamic and electrophysiological processes in the brain. Initially, this is to be done as part of a feasibility study during a parabolic flight. Afterwards, it is also planned to use both techniques during medium- and long-term space flight.
It can be assumed that the long-term redistribution of the blood volume and the associated increase in the supply of oxygen to the brain will lead to changes in the central nervous system that are also responsible for anaemic processes, and which can in turn reduce performance (De Santo et al.
2005), which means that they could be crucial for the success and safety of a mission (Genik et al.
2005, Ellis 2000).
Depending on these results, it will be necessary to develop and employ extensive countermeasures. Initial results for the MARS500 study suggest that, in addition to their significance in the context of the cardiovascular and locomotor systems, sport and physical activity can play a part in improving neurocognitive parameters. Before this can be fully established, however, it seems necessary to learn more about the influence of changing gravity conditions on neurophysiological processes and associated neurocognitive impairment.
Neuroscience, Issue 51, EEG, NIRS, electrotomography, parabolic flight, weightlessness, imaging, cognitive performance
Methods for ECG Evaluation of Indicators of Cardiac Risk, and Susceptibility to Aconitine-induced Arrhythmias in Rats Following Status Epilepticus
Institutions: University of Utah.
Lethal cardiac arrhythmias contribute to mortality in a number of pathological conditions. Several parameters obtained from a
non-invasive, easily obtained electrocardiogram (ECG) are established, well-validated prognostic indicators of cardiac risk in patients suffering
from a number of cardiomyopathies. Increased heart rate, decreased heart rate variability (HRV), and increased duration and variability of cardiac
ventricular electrical activity (QT interval) are all indicative of enhanced cardiac risk 1-4
. In animal models, it is valuable to compare
these ECG-derived variables and susceptibility to experimentally induced arrhythmias. Intravenous infusion of the arrhythmogenic agent aconitine has
been widely used to evaluate susceptibility to arrhythmias in a range of experimental conditions, including animal models of depression 5
, following exercise 7
and exposure to air pollutants 8
, as well as determination of the antiarrhythmic efficacy of pharmacological
It should be noted that QT dispersion in humans is a measure of QT interval variation across the full set of leads from a
standard 12-lead ECG. Consequently, the measure of QT dispersion from the 2-lead ECG in the rat described in this protocol is different than that
calculated from human ECG records. This represents a limitation in the translation of the data obtained from rodents to human clinical medicine.
Status epilepticus (SE) is a single seizure or series of continuously recurring seizures lasting more than 30 min
, and results in mortality in 20% of cases 13
. Many individuals survive the SE, but die within 30 days 14,15
The mechanism(s) of this delayed mortality is not fully understood. It has been suggested that lethal ventricular arrhythmias contribute to many of these
. In addition to SE, patients experiencing spontaneously recurring seizures, i.e. epilepsy, are at risk of premature
sudden and unexpected death associated with epilepsy (SUDEP) 18
. As with SE, the precise mechanisms mediating SUDEP are not known.
It has been proposed that ventricular abnormalities and resulting arrhythmias make a significant contribution 18-22
To investigate the mechanisms of seizure-related cardiac death, and the efficacy of cardioprotective therapies, it is
necessary to obtain both ECG-derived indicators of risk and evaluate susceptibility to cardiac arrhythmias in animal models of seizure disorders
. Here we describe methods for implanting ECG electrodes in the Sprague-Dawley laboratory rat (Rattus norvegicus), following SE,
collection and analysis of ECG recordings, and induction of arrhythmias during iv infusion of aconitine.
These procedures can be used to directly determine the relationships between ECG-derived measures of cardiac electrical
activity and susceptibility to ventricular arrhythmias in rat models of seizure disorders, or any pathology associated with increased risk of sudden
Medicine, Issue 50, cardiac, seizure disorders, QTc, QTd, cardiac arrhythmias, rat
Combining Behavioral Endocrinology and Experimental Economics: Testosterone and Social Decision Making
Institutions: University of Zurich, Royal Holloway, University of London.
Behavioral endocrinological research in humans as well as in animals suggests that testosterone plays a key role in social interactions. Studies in rodents have shown a direct link between testosterone and aggressive behavior1
and folk wisdom adapts these findings to humans, suggesting that testosterone induces antisocial, egoistic or even aggressive behavior2
. However, many researchers doubt a direct testosterone-aggression link in humans, arguing instead that testosterone is primarily involved in status-related behavior3,4
. As a high status can also be achieved by aggressive and antisocial means it can be difficult to distinguish between anti-social and status seeking behavior.
We therefore set up an experimental environment, in which status can only be achieved by prosocial means. In a double-blind and placebo-controlled experiment, we administered a single sublingual dose of 0.5 mg of testosterone (with a hydroxypropyl-β-cyclodextrin carrier) to 121 women and investigated their social interaction behavior in an economic bargaining paradigm. Real monetary incentives are at stake in this paradigm; every player A receives a certain amount of money and has to make an offer to another player B on how to share the money. If B accepts, she gets what was offered and player A keeps the rest. If B refuses the offer, nobody gets anything. A status seeking player A is expected to avoid being rejected by behaving in a prosocial way, i.e. by making higher offers.
The results show that if expectations about the hormone are controlled for, testosterone administration leads to a significant increase in fair bargaining offers compared to placebo. The role of expectations is reflected in the fact that subjects who report that they believe to have received testosterone make lower offers than those who say they believe that they were treated with a placebo. These findings suggest that the experimental economics approach is sensitive for detecting neurobiological effects as subtle as those achieved by administration of hormones. Moreover, the findings point towards the importance of both psychosocial as well as neuroendocrine factors in determining the influence of testosterone on human social behavior.
Neuroscience, Issue 49, behavioral endocrinology, testosterone, social status, decision making