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.
17 Related JoVE Articles!
Marble Burying and Nestlet Shredding as Tests of Repetitive, Compulsive-like Behaviors in Mice
Institutions: Wayne State University School of Medicine.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are serious and debilitating psychiatric conditions and each constitutes a significant public health concern, particularly in children. Both of these conditions are highlighted by the repeated expression of meaningless behaviors. Individuals with OCD often show checking, frequent hand washing, and counting. Children with ASDs also engage in repetitive tapping, arm or hand flapping, and rocking. These behaviors can vary widely in intensity and frequency of expression. More intense forms of repetitive behaviors can even result in injury (e.g.
excessive grooming, hand washing, and self-stimulation). These behaviors are therefore very disruptive and make normal social discourse difficult. Treatment options for repetitive behaviors in OCD and ASDs are somewhat limited and there is great interest in developing more effective therapies for each condition. Numerous animal models for evaluating compulsive-like behaviors have been developed over the past three decades. Perhaps the animal models with the greatest validity and ease of use are the marble burying test and the nestlet shredding test. Both tests take advantage of the fact that the target behaviors occur spontaneously in mice. In the marble burying test, 20 marbles are arrayed on the surface of clean bedding. The number of marbles buried in a 30 min session is scored by investigators blind to the treatment or status of the subjects. In the nestlet shredding test, a nestlet comprised of pulped cotton fiber is preweighed and placed on top of cage bedding and the amount of the nestlet remaining intact after a 30 min test session is determined. Presently, we describe protocols for and show movie documentation of marble burying and nestlet shredding. Both tests are easily and accurately scored and each is sensitive to small changes in the expression of compulsive-like behaviors that result from genetic manipulations, disease, or head injury.
Behavior, Issue 82, compulsive-like behaviors, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), marble burying, nestlet shredding, TPH2 KO mice
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
The Dig Task: A Simple Scent Discrimination Reveals Deficits Following Frontal Brain Damage
Institutions: Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.
Cognitive impairment is the most frequent cause of disability in humans following brain damage, yet the behavioral tasks used to assess cognition in rodent models of brain injury is lacking. Borrowing from the operant literature our laboratory utilized a basic scent discrimination paradigm1-4
in order to assess deficits in frontally-injured rats. Previously we have briefly described the Dig task and demonstrated that rats with frontal brain damage show severe deficits across multiple tests within the task5
. Here we present a more detailed protocol for this task. Rats are placed into a chamber and allowed to discriminate between two scented sands, one of which contains a reinforcer. The trial ends after the rat either correctly discriminates (defined as digging in the correct scented sand), incorrectly discriminates, or 30 sec elapses. Rats that correctly discriminate are allowed to recover and consume the reinforcer. Rats that discriminate incorrectly are immediately removed from the chamber. This can continue through a variety of reversals and novel scents. The primary analysis is the accuracy for each scent pairing (cumulative proportion correct for each scent). The general findings from the Dig task suggest that it is a simple experimental preparation that can assess deficits in rats with bilateral frontal cortical damage compared to rats with unilateral parietal damage. The Dig task can also be easily incorporated into an existing cognitive test battery. The use of more tasks such as this one can lead to more accurate testing of frontal function following injury, which may lead to therapeutic options for treatment. All animal use was conducted in accordance with protocols approved by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
Neuroscience, Issue 71, Medicine, Neurobiology, Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Behavior, cognitive assessment, dig task, scent discrimination, olfactory, brain injury, traumatic brain injury, TBI, brain damage, rats, animal model
The 5-Choice Serial Reaction Time Task: A Task of Attention and Impulse Control for Rodents
Institutions: Oberlin College.
This protocol describes the 5-choice serial reaction time task, which is an operant based task used to study attention and impulse control in rodents. Test day challenges, modifications to the standard task, can be used to systematically tax the neural systems controlling either attention or impulse control. Importantly, these challenges have consistent effects on behavior across laboratories in intact animals and can reveal either enhancements or deficits in cognitive function that are not apparent when rats are only tested on the standard task. The variety of behavioral measures that are collected can be used to determine if other factors (i.e
., sedation, motivation deficits, locomotor impairments) are contributing to changes in performance. The versatility of the 5CSRTT is further enhanced because it is amenable to combination with pharmacological, molecular, and genetic techniques.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, attention, impulse control, neuroscience, cognition, rodent
Using Microwave and Macroscopic Samples of Dielectric Solids to Study the Photonic Properties of Disordered Photonic Bandgap Materials
Institutions: San Francisco State University.
Recently, disordered photonic materials have been suggested as an alternative to periodic crystals for the formation of a complete photonic bandgap (PBG). In this article we will describe the methods for constructing and characterizing macroscopic disordered photonic structures using microwaves. The microwave regime offers the most convenient experimental sample size to build and test PBG media. Easily manipulated dielectric lattice components extend flexibility in building various 2D structures on top of pre-printed plastic templates. Once built, the structures could be quickly modified with point and line defects to make freeform waveguides and filters. Testing is done using a widely available Vector Network Analyzer and pairs of microwave horn antennas. Due to the scale invariance property of electromagnetic fields, the results we obtained in the microwave region can be directly applied to infrared and optical regions. Our approach is simple but delivers exciting new insight into the nature of light and disordered matter interaction.
Our representative results include the first experimental demonstration of the existence of a complete and isotropic PBG in a two-dimensional (2D) hyperuniform disordered dielectric structure. Additionally we demonstrate experimentally the ability of this novel photonic structure to guide electromagnetic waves (EM) through freeform waveguides of arbitrary shape.
Physics, Issue 91, optics and photonics, photonic crystals, photonic bandgap, hyperuniform, disordered media, waveguides
Investigating Protein-protein Interactions in Live Cells Using Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer
Institutions: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour.
Assays based on Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer (BRET) provide a sensitive and reliable means to monitor protein-protein interactions in live cells. BRET is the non-radiative transfer of energy from a 'donor' luciferase enzyme to an 'acceptor' fluorescent protein. In the most common configuration of this assay, the donor is Renilla reniformis
luciferase and the acceptor is Yellow Fluorescent Protein (YFP). Because the efficiency of energy transfer is strongly distance-dependent, observation of the BRET phenomenon requires that the donor and acceptor be in close proximity. To test for an interaction between two proteins of interest in cultured mammalian cells, one protein is expressed as a fusion with luciferase and the second as a fusion with YFP. An interaction between the two proteins of interest may bring the donor and acceptor sufficiently close for energy transfer to occur. Compared to other techniques for investigating protein-protein interactions, the BRET assay is sensitive, requires little hands-on time and few reagents, and is able to detect interactions which are weak, transient, or dependent on the biochemical environment found within a live cell. It is therefore an ideal approach for confirming putative interactions suggested by yeast two-hybrid or mass spectrometry proteomics studies, and in addition it is well-suited for mapping interacting regions, assessing the effect of post-translational modifications on protein-protein interactions, and evaluating the impact of mutations identified in patient DNA.
Cellular Biology, Issue 87, Protein-protein interactions, Bioluminescence Resonance Energy Transfer, Live cell, Transfection, Luciferase, Yellow Fluorescent Protein, Mutations
Analysis of Nephron Composition and Function in the Adult Zebrafish Kidney
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
The zebrafish model has emerged as a relevant system to study kidney development, regeneration and disease. Both the embryonic and adult zebrafish kidneys are composed of functional units known as nephrons, which are highly conserved with other vertebrates, including mammals. Research in zebrafish has recently demonstrated that two distinctive phenomena transpire after adult nephrons incur damage: first, there is robust regeneration within existing nephrons that replaces the destroyed tubule epithelial cells; second, entirely new nephrons are produced from renal progenitors in a process known as neonephrogenesis. In contrast, humans and other mammals seem to have only a limited ability for nephron epithelial regeneration. To date, the mechanisms responsible for these kidney regeneration phenomena remain poorly understood. Since adult zebrafish kidneys undergo both nephron epithelial regeneration and neonephrogenesis, they provide an outstanding experimental paradigm to study these events. Further, there is a wide range of genetic and pharmacological tools available in the zebrafish model that can be used to delineate the cellular and molecular mechanisms that regulate renal regeneration. One essential aspect of such research is the evaluation of nephron structure and function. This protocol describes a set of labeling techniques that can be used to gauge renal composition and test nephron functionality in the adult zebrafish kidney. Thus, these methods are widely applicable to the future phenotypic characterization of adult zebrafish kidney injury paradigms, which include but are not limited to, nephrotoxicant exposure regimes or genetic methods of targeted cell death such as the nitroreductase mediated cell ablation technique. Further, these methods could be used to study genetic perturbations in adult kidney formation and could also be applied to assess renal status during chronic disease modeling.
Cellular Biology, Issue 90,
zebrafish; kidney; nephron; nephrology; renal; regeneration; proximal tubule; distal tubule; segment; mesonephros; physiology; acute kidney injury (AKI)
Developing Neuroimaging Phenotypes of the Default Mode Network in PTSD: Integrating the Resting State, Working Memory, and Structural Connectivity
Institutions: Alpert Medical School, Brown University, University of Georgia.
Complementary structural and functional neuroimaging techniques used to examine the Default Mode Network (DMN) could potentially improve assessments of psychiatric illness severity and provide added validity to the clinical diagnostic process. Recent neuroimaging research suggests that DMN processes may be disrupted in a number of stress-related psychiatric illnesses, such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although specific DMN functions remain under investigation, it is generally thought to be involved in introspection and self-processing. In healthy individuals it exhibits greatest activity during periods of rest, with less activity, observed as deactivation, during cognitive tasks, e.g.
, working memory. This network consists of the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex/precuneus, lateral parietal cortices and medial temporal regions.
Multiple functional and structural imaging approaches have been developed to study the DMN. These have unprecedented potential to further the understanding of the function and dysfunction of this network. Functional approaches, such as the evaluation of resting state connectivity and task-induced deactivation, have excellent potential to identify targeted neurocognitive and neuroaffective (functional) diagnostic markers and may indicate illness severity and prognosis with increased accuracy or specificity. Structural approaches, such as evaluation of morphometry and connectivity, may provide unique markers of etiology and long-term outcomes. Combined, functional and structural methods provide strong multimodal, complementary and synergistic approaches to develop valid DMN-based imaging phenotypes in stress-related psychiatric conditions. This protocol aims to integrate these methods to investigate DMN structure and function in PTSD, relating findings to illness severity and relevant clinical factors.
Medicine, Issue 89, default mode network, neuroimaging, functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion tensor imaging, structural connectivity, functional connectivity, posttraumatic stress disorder
Clinical Examination Protocol to Detect Atypical and Classical Scrapie in Sheep
Institutions: Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency Weybridge.
The diagnosis of scrapie, a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy (TSEs) of sheep and goats, is currently based on the detection of disease-associated prion protein by post mortem
tests. Unless a random sample of the sheep or goat population is actively monitored for scrapie, identification of scrapie cases relies on the reporting of clinical suspects, which is dependent on the individual's familiarization with the disease and ability to recognize clinical signs associated with scrapie. Scrapie may not be considered in the differential diagnosis of neurological diseases in small ruminants, particularly in countries with low scrapie prevalence, or not recognized if it presents as nonpruritic form like atypical scrapie. To aid in the identification of clinical suspects, a short examination protocol is presented to assess the display of specific clinical signs associated with pruritic and nonpruritic forms of TSEs in sheep, which could also be applied to goats. This includes assessment of behavior, vision (by testing of the menace response), pruritus (by testing the response to scratching), and movement (with and without blindfolding). This may lead to a more detailed neurologic examination of reporting animals as scrapie suspects. It could also be used in experimental TSE studies of sheep or goats to evaluate disease progression or to identify clinical end-point.
Infectious Diseases, Issue 83, transmissible spongiform encephalopathy, sheep, atypical scrapie, classical scrapie, neurologic examination, scratch test, menace response, blindfolding
Using the Threat Probability Task to Assess Anxiety and Fear During Uncertain and Certain Threat
Institutions: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fear of certain threat and anxiety about uncertain threat are distinct emotions with unique behavioral, cognitive-attentional, and neuroanatomical components. Both anxiety and fear can be studied in the laboratory by measuring the potentiation of the startle reflex. The startle reflex is a defensive reflex that is potentiated when an organism is threatened and the need for defense is high. The startle reflex is assessed via electromyography (EMG) in the orbicularis oculi muscle elicited by brief, intense, bursts of acoustic white noise (i.e.
, “startle probes”). Startle potentiation is calculated as the increase in startle response magnitude during presentation of sets of visual threat cues that signal delivery of mild electric shock relative to sets of matched cues that signal the absence of shock (no-threat cues). In the Threat Probability Task, fear is measured via startle potentiation to high probability (100% cue-contingent shock; certain) threat cues whereas anxiety is measured via startle potentiation to low probability (20% cue-contingent shock; uncertain) threat cues. Measurement of startle potentiation during the Threat Probability Task provides an objective and easily implemented alternative to assessment of negative affect via self-report or other methods (e.g.
, neuroimaging) that may be inappropriate or impractical for some researchers. Startle potentiation has been studied rigorously in both animals (e.g
., rodents, non-human primates) and humans which facilitates animal-to-human translational research. Startle potentiation during certain and uncertain threat provides an objective measure of negative affective and distinct emotional states (fear, anxiety) to use in research on psychopathology, substance use/abuse and broadly in affective science. As such, it has been used extensively by clinical scientists interested in psychopathology etiology and by affective scientists interested in individual differences in emotion.
Behavior, Issue 91,
Startle; electromyography; shock; addiction; uncertainty; fear; anxiety; humans; psychophysiology; translational
Flexible Colonoscopy in Mice to Evaluate the Severity of Colitis and Colorectal Tumors Using a Validated Endoscopic Scoring System
Institutions: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland.
The use of modern endoscopy for research purposes has greatly facilitated our understanding of gastrointestinal pathologies. In particular, experimental endoscopy has been highly useful for studies that require repeated assessments in a single laboratory animal, such as those evaluating mechanisms of chronic inflammatory bowel disease and the progression of colorectal cancer. However, the methods used across studies are highly variable. At least three endoscopic scoring systems have been published for murine colitis and published protocols for the assessment of colorectal tumors fail to address the presence of concomitant colonic inflammation. This study develops and validates a reproducible endoscopic scoring system that integrates evaluation of both inflammation and tumors simultaneously. This novel scoring system has three major components: 1) assessment of the extent and severity of colorectal inflammation (based on perianal findings, transparency of the wall, mucosal bleeding, and focal lesions), 2) quantitative recording of tumor lesions (grid map and bar graph), and 3) numerical sorting of clinical cases by their pathological and research relevance based on decimal units with assigned categories of observed lesions and endoscopic complications (decimal identifiers). The video and manuscript presented herein were prepared, following IACUC-approved protocols, to allow investigators to score their own experimental mice using a well-validated and highly reproducible endoscopic methodology, with the system option to differentiate distal from proximal endoscopic colitis (D-PECS).
Medicine, Issue 80, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer, Clostridium difficile, SAMP mice, DSS/AOM-colitis, decimal scoring identifier
Inchworming: A Novel Motor Stereotypy in the BTBR T+ Itpr3tf/J Mouse Model of Autism
Institutions: University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Trinity College.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a behaviorally defined neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by decreased reciprocal social interaction, abnormal communication, and repetitive behaviors with restricted interest. As diagnosis is based on clinical criteria, any potentially relevant rodent models of this heterogeneous disorder should ideally recapitulate these diverse behavioral traits. The BTBR T+ Itpr3tf
/J (BTBR) mouse is an established animal model of ASD, displaying repetitive behaviors such as increased grooming, as well as cognitive inflexibility. With respect to social interaction and interest, the juvenile play test has been employed in multiple rodent models of ASD. Here, we show that when BTBR mice are tested in a juvenile social interaction enclosure containing sawdust bedding, they display a repetitive synchronous digging motion. This repetitive motor behavior, referred to as "inchworming," was named because of the stereotypic nature of the movements exhibited by the mice while moving horizontally across the floor. Inchworming mice must use their fore- and hind-limbs in synchrony to displace the bedding, performing a minimum of one inward and one outward motion. Although both BTBR and C56BL/6J (B6) mice exhibit this behavior, BTBR mice demonstrate a significantly higher duration and frequency of inchworming and a decreased latency to initiate inchworming when placed in a bedded enclosure. We conclude that this newly described behavior provides a measure of a repetitive motor stereotypy that can be easily measured in animal models of ASD.
Behavior, Issue 89, mice, inbred C57BL, social behavior, animal models, autism, BTBR, motor stereotypy, repetitive
Habituation and Prepulse Inhibition of Acoustic Startle in Rodents
Institutions: University of Western Ontario.
The acoustic startle response is a protective response, elicited by a sudden and intense acoustic stimulus. Facial and skeletal muscles are activated within a few milliseconds, leading to a whole body flinch in rodents1
. Although startle responses are reflexive responses that can be reliably elicited, they are not stereotypic. They can be modulated by emotions such as fear (fear potentiated startle) and joy (joy attenuated startle), by non-associative learning processes such as habituation and sensitization, and by other sensory stimuli through sensory gating processes (prepulse inhibition), turning startle responses into an excellent tool for assessing emotions, learning, and sensory gating, for review see 2, 3
. The primary pathway mediating startle responses is very short and well described, qualifying startle also as an excellent model for studying the underlying mechanisms for behavioural plasticity on a cellular/molecular level3
We here describe a method for assessing short-term habituation, long-term habituation and prepulse inhibition of acoustic startle responses in rodents. Habituation describes the decrease of the startle response magnitude upon repeated presentation of the same stimulus. Habituation within a testing session is called short-term habituation (STH) and is reversible upon a period of several minutes without stimulation. Habituation between testing sessions is called long-term habituation (LTH)4
. Habituation is stimulus specific5
. Prepulse inhibition is the attenuation of a startle response by a preceding non-startling sensory stimulus6
. The interval between prepulse and startle stimulus can vary from 6 to up to 2000 ms. The prepulse can be any modality, however, acoustic prepulses are the most commonly used.
Habituation is a form of non-associative learning. It can also be viewed as a form of sensory filtering, since it reduces the organisms' response to a non-threatening stimulus. Prepulse inhibition (PPI) was originally developed in human neuropsychiatric research as an operational measure for sensory gating7
. PPI deficits may represent the interface of "psychosis and cognition" as they seem to predict cognitive impairment8-10
. Both habituation and PPI are disrupted in patients suffering from schizophrenia11
, and PPI disruptions have shown to be, at least in some cases, amenable to treatment with mostly atypical antipsychotics12, 13
. However, other mental and neurodegenerative diseases are also accompanied by disruption in habituation and/or PPI, such as autism spectrum disorders (slower habituation), obsessive compulsive disorder, Tourette's syndrome, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's Disease (PPI)11, 14, 15
Dopamine induced PPI deficits are a commonly used animal model for the screening of antipsychotic drugs16
, but PPI deficits can also be induced by many other psychomimetic drugs, environmental modifications and surgical procedures.
Neuroscience, Issue 55, Startle responses, rat, mouse, sensory gating, sensory filtering, short-term habituation, long-term habituation, prepulse inhibition
Utilizing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to Study the Human Neuromuscular System
Institutions: Ohio University.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been in use for more than 20 years 1
, and has grown exponentially in popularity over the past decade. While the use of TMS has expanded to the study of many systems and processes during this time, the original application and perhaps one of the most common uses of TMS involves studying the physiology, plasticity and function of the human neuromuscular system. Single pulse TMS applied to the motor cortex excites pyramidal neurons transsynaptically 2
(Figure 1) and results in a measurable electromyographic response that can be used to study and evaluate the integrity and excitability of the corticospinal tract in humans 3
. Additionally, recent advances in magnetic stimulation now allows for partitioning of cortical versus spinal excitability 4,5
. For example, paired-pulse TMS can be used to assess intracortical facilitatory and inhibitory properties by combining a conditioning stimulus and a test stimulus at different interstimulus intervals 3,4,6-8
. In this video article we will demonstrate the methodological and technical aspects of these techniques. Specifically, we will demonstrate single-pulse and paired-pulse TMS techniques as applied to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) muscle as well as the erector spinae (ES) musculature. Our laboratory studies the FCR muscle as it is of interest to our research on the effects of wrist-hand cast immobilization on reduced muscle performance6,9
, and we study the ES muscles due to these muscles clinical relevance as it relates to low back pain8
. With this stated, we should note that TMS has been used to study many muscles of the hand, arm and legs, and should iterate that our demonstrations in the FCR and ES muscle groups are only selected examples of TMS being used to study the human neuromuscular system.
Medicine, Issue 59, neuroscience, muscle, electromyography, physiology, TMS, strength, motor control. sarcopenia, dynapenia, lumbar
Real-time fMRI Biofeedback Targeting the Orbitofrontal Cortex for Contamination Anxiety
Institutions: Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine , Yale University School of Medicine .
We present a method for training subjects to control activity in a region of their orbitofrontal cortex associated with contamination anxiety using biofeedback of real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging (rt-fMRI) data. Increased activity of this region is seen in relationship with contamination anxiety both in control subjects1
and in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),2
a relatively common and often debilitating psychiatric disorder involving contamination anxiety. Although many brain regions have been implicated in OCD, abnormality in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is one of the most consistent findings.3, 4
Furthermore, hyperactivity in the OFC has been found to correlate with OCD symptom severity5
and decreases in hyperactivity in this region have been reported to correlate with decreased symptom severity.6
Therefore, the ability to control this brain area may translate into clinical improvements in obsessive-compulsive symptoms including contamination anxiety. Biofeedback of rt-fMRI data is a new technique in which the temporal pattern of activity in a specific region (or associated with a specific distributed pattern of brain activity) in a subject's brain is provided as a feedback signal to the subject. Recent reports indicate that people are able to develop control over the activity of specific brain areas when provided with rt-fMRI biofeedback.7-12
In particular, several studies using this technique to target brain areas involved in emotion processing have reported success in training subjects to control these regions.13-18
In several cases, rt-fMRI biofeedback training has been reported to induce cognitive, emotional, or clinical changes in subjects.8, 9, 13, 19
Here we illustrate this technique as applied to the treatment of contamination anxiety in healthy subjects. This biofeedback intervention will be a valuable basic research tool: it allows researchers to perturb brain function, measure the resulting changes in brain dynamics and relate those to changes in contamination anxiety or other behavioral measures. In addition, the establishment of this method serves as a first step towards the investigation of fMRI-based biofeedback as a therapeutic intervention for OCD. Given that approximately a quarter of patients with OCD receive little benefit from the currently available forms of treatment,20-22
and that those who do benefit rarely recover completely, new approaches for treating this population are urgently needed.
Medicine, Issue 59, Real-time fMRI, rt-fMRI, neurofeedback, biofeedback, orbitofrontal cortex, OFC, obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD, contamination anxiety, resting connectivity
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
Layers of Symbiosis - Visualizing the Termite Hindgut Microbial Community
Institutions: California Institute of Technology - Caltech.
Jared Leadbetter takes us for a nature walk through the diversity of life resident in the termite hindgut - a microenvironment containing 250 different species found nowhere else on Earth. Jared reveals that the symbiosis exhibited by this system is multi-layered and involves not only a relationship between the termite and its gut inhabitants, but also involves a complex web of symbiosis among the gut microbes themselves.
Microbiology, issue 4, microbial community, symbiosis, hindgut