Investigators have long been interested in the human propensity for the rapid detection of threatening stimuli. However, until recently, research in this domain has focused almost exclusively on adult participants, completely ignoring the topic of threat detection over the course of development. One of the biggest reasons for the lack of developmental work in this area is likely the absence of a reliable paradigm that can measure perceptual biases for threat in children. To address this issue, we recently designed a modified visual search paradigm similar to the standard adult paradigm that is appropriate for studying threat detection in preschool-aged participants. Here we describe this new procedure. In the general paradigm, we present participants with matrices of color photographs, and ask them to find and touch a target on the screen. Latency to touch the target is recorded. Using a touch-screen monitor makes the procedure simple and easy, allowing us to collect data in participants ranging from 3 years of age to adults. Thus far, the paradigm has consistently shown that both adults and children detect threatening stimuli (e.g., snakes, spiders, angry/fearful faces) more quickly than neutral stimuli (e.g., flowers, mushrooms, happy/neutral faces). Altogether, this procedure provides an important new tool for researchers interested in studying the development of attentional biases for threat.
21 Related JoVE Articles!
A Cognitive Paradigm to Investigate Interference in Working Memory by Distractions and Interruptions
Institutions: University of New Mexico, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco.
Goal-directed behavior is often impaired by interference from the external environment, either in the form of distraction by irrelevant information that one attempts to ignore, or by interrupting information that demands attention as part of another (secondary) task goal. Both forms of external interference have been shown to detrimentally impact the ability to maintain information in working memory (WM). Emerging evidence suggests that these different types of external interference exert different effects on behavior and may be mediated by distinct neural mechanisms. Better characterizing the distinct neuro-behavioral impact of irrelevant distractions versus attended interruptions is essential for advancing an understanding of top-down attention, resolution of external interference, and how these abilities become degraded in healthy aging and in neuropsychiatric conditions. This manuscript describes a novel cognitive paradigm developed the Gazzaley lab that has now been modified into several distinct versions used to elucidate behavioral and neural correlates of interference, by to-be-ignored distractors
versus to-be-attended interruptors
. Details are provided on variants of this paradigm for investigating interference in visual and auditory modalities, at multiple levels of stimulus complexity, and with experimental timing optimized for electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies. In addition, data from younger and older adult participants obtained using this paradigm is reviewed and discussed in the context of its relationship with the broader literatures on external interference and age-related neuro-behavioral changes in resolving interference in working memory.
Behavior, Issue 101, Attention, interference, distraction, interruption, working memory, aging, multi-tasking, top-down attention, EEG, fMRI
Correlating Behavioral Responses to fMRI Signals from Human Prefrontal Cortex: Examining Cognitive Processes Using Task Analysis
Institutions: Centre for Vision Research, York University, Centre for Vision Research, York University.
The aim of this methods paper is to describe how to implement a neuroimaging technique to examine complementary brain processes engaged by two similar tasks. Participants' behavior during task performance in an fMRI scanner can then be correlated to the brain activity using the blood-oxygen-level-dependent signal. We measure behavior to be able to sort correct trials, where the subject performed the task correctly and then be able to examine the brain signals related to correct performance. Conversely, if subjects do not perform the task correctly, and these trials are included in the same analysis with the correct trials we would introduce trials that were not only for correct performance. Thus, in many cases these errors can be used themselves to then correlate brain activity to them. We describe two complementary tasks that are used in our lab to examine the brain during suppression of an automatic responses: the stroop1
and anti-saccade tasks. The emotional stroop paradigm instructs participants to either report the superimposed emotional 'word' across the affective faces or the facial 'expressions' of the face stimuli1,2
. When the word and the facial expression refer to different emotions, a conflict between what must be said and what is automatically read occurs. The participant has to resolve the conflict between two simultaneously competing processes of word reading and facial expression. Our urge to read out a word leads to strong 'stimulus-response (SR)' associations; hence inhibiting these strong SR's is difficult and participants are prone to making errors. Overcoming this conflict and directing attention away from the face or the word requires the subject to inhibit bottom up processes which typically directs attention to the more salient stimulus. Similarly, in the anti-saccade task3,4,5,6
, where an instruction cue is used to direct only attention to a peripheral stimulus location but then the eye movement is made to the mirror opposite position. Yet again we measure behavior by recording the eye movements of participants which allows for the sorting of the behavioral responses into correct and error trials7
which then can be correlated to brain activity. Neuroimaging now allows researchers to measure different behaviors of correct and error trials that are indicative of different cognitive processes and pinpoint the different neural networks involved.
Neuroscience, Issue 64, fMRI, eyetracking, BOLD, attention, inhibition, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, MRI
Eye Movement Monitoring of Memory
Institutions: Rotman Research Institute, University of Toronto, University of Toronto.
Explicit (often verbal) reports are typically used to investigate memory (e.g. "Tell me what you remember about the person you saw at the bank yesterday."), however such reports can often be unreliable or sensitive to response bias 1
, and may be unobtainable in some participant populations. Furthermore, explicit reports only reveal when information has reached consciousness and cannot comment on when memories were accessed during processing, regardless of whether the information is subsequently accessed in a conscious manner. Eye movement monitoring (eye tracking) provides a tool by which memory can be probed without asking participants to comment on the contents of their memories, and access of such memories can be revealed on-line 2,3
. Video-based eye trackers (either head-mounted or remote) use a system of cameras and infrared markers to examine the pupil and corneal reflection in each eye as the participant views a display monitor. For head-mounted eye trackers, infrared markers are also used to determine head position to allow for head movement and more precise localization of eye position. Here, we demonstrate the use of a head-mounted eye tracking system to investigate memory performance in neurologically-intact and neurologically-impaired adults. Eye movement monitoring procedures begin with the placement of the eye tracker on the participant, and setup of the head and eye cameras. Calibration and validation procedures are conducted to ensure accuracy of eye position recording. Real-time recordings of X,Y-coordinate positions on the display monitor are then converted and used to describe periods of time in which the eye is static (i.e. fixations) versus in motion (i.e., saccades). Fixations and saccades are time-locked with respect to the onset/offset of a visual display or another external event (e.g. button press). Experimental manipulations are constructed to examine how and when patterns of fixations and saccades are altered through different types of prior experience. The influence of memory is revealed in the extent to which scanning patterns to new images differ from scanning patterns to images that have been previously studied 2, 4-5
. Memory can also be interrogated for its specificity; for instance, eye movement patterns that differ between an identical and an altered version of a previously studied image reveal the storage of the altered detail in memory 2-3, 6-8
. These indices of memory can be compared across participant populations, thereby providing a powerful tool by which to examine the organization of memory in healthy individuals, and the specific changes that occur to memory with neurological insult or decline 2-3, 8-10
Neuroscience, Issue 42, eye movement monitoring, eye tracking, memory, aging, amnesia, visual processing
Practical Methodology of Cognitive Tasks Within a Navigational Assessment
Institutions: Laurentian University, Laurentian University.
This paper describes an approach for measuring navigation accuracy relative to cognitive skills. The methodology behind the assessment will thus be clearly outlined in a step-by-step manner. Navigational skills are important when trying to find symbols within a speech-generating device (SGD) that has a dynamic screen and taxonomical organization. The following skills have been found to impact children’s ability to find symbols when navigating within the levels of an SGD: sustained attention, categorization, cognitive flexibility, and fluid reasoning1,2
. According to past studies, working memory was not correlated with navigation1,2
The materials needed for this method include a computerized tablet, an augmentative and alternative communication application, a booklet of symbols, and the Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised (Leiter-R)3
. This method has been used in two previous studies. Robillard, Mayer-Crittenden, Roy-Charland, Minor-Corriveau and Bélanger1
assessed typically developing children, while Rondeau, Robillard and Roy-Charland2
assessed children and adolescents with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The direct observation of this method will facilitate the replication of this study for researchers. It will also help clinicians that work with children who have complex communication needs to determine the children’s ability to navigate an SGD with taxonomical categorization.
Behavior, Issue 100, Augmentative and alternative communication, navigation, cognition, assessment, speech-language pathology, children
Quantitative Assessment of Cortical Auditory-tactile Processing in Children with Disabilities
Institutions: Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University.
Objective and easy measurement of sensory processing is extremely difficult in nonverbal or vulnerable pediatric patients. We developed a new methodology to quantitatively assess children's cortical processing of light touch, speech sounds and the multisensory processing of the 2 stimuli, without requiring active subject participation or causing children discomfort. To accomplish this we developed a dual channel, time and strength calibrated air puff stimulator that allows both tactile stimulation and sham control. We combined this with the use of event-related potential methodology to allow for high temporal resolution of signals from the primary and secondary somatosensory cortices as well as higher order processing. This methodology also allowed us to measure a multisensory response to auditory-tactile stimulation.
Behavior, Issue 83, somatosensory, event related potential, auditory-tactile, multisensory, cortical response, child
Vision Training Methods for Sports Concussion Mitigation and Management
Institutions: University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
There is emerging evidence supporting the use vision training, including light board training tools, as a concussion baseline and neuro-diagnostic tool and potentially as a supportive component to concussion prevention strategies. This paper is focused on providing detailed methods for select vision training tools and reporting normative data for comparison when vision training is a part of a sports management program. The overall program includes standard vision training methods including tachistoscope, Brock’s string, and strobe glasses, as well as specialized light board training algorithms. Stereopsis is measured as a means to monitor vision training affects. In addition, quantitative results for vision training methods as well as baseline and post-testing *A and Reaction Test measures with progressive scores are reported. Collegiate athletes consistently improve after six weeks of training in their stereopsis, *A and Reaction Test scores. When vision training is initiated as a team wide exercise, the incidence of concussion decreases in players who participate in training compared to players who do not receive the vision training. Vision training produces functional and performance changes that, when monitored, can be used to assess the success of the vision training and can be initiated as part of a sports medical intervention for concussion prevention.
Behavior, Issue 99, Vision training, peripheral vision, functional peripheral vision, concussion, concussion management, diagnosis, rehabilitation, eyes, sight, seeing, sight
Aseptic Laboratory Techniques: Plating Methods
Institutions: University of California, Los Angeles .
Microorganisms are present on all inanimate surfaces creating ubiquitous sources of possible contamination in the laboratory. Experimental success relies on the ability of a scientist to sterilize work surfaces and equipment as well as prevent contact of sterile instruments and solutions with non-sterile surfaces. Here we present the steps for several plating methods routinely used in the laboratory to isolate, propagate, or enumerate microorganisms such as bacteria and phage. All five methods incorporate aseptic technique, or procedures that maintain the sterility of experimental materials. Procedures described include (1) streak-plating bacterial cultures to isolate single colonies, (2) pour-plating and (3) spread-plating to enumerate viable bacterial colonies, (4) soft agar overlays to isolate phage and enumerate plaques, and (5) replica-plating to transfer cells from one plate to another in an identical spatial pattern. These procedures can be performed at the laboratory bench, provided they involve non-pathogenic strains of microorganisms (Biosafety Level 1, BSL-1). If working with BSL-2 organisms, then these manipulations must take place in a biosafety cabinet. Consult the most current edition of the Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories
(BMBL) as well as Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDS) for Infectious Substances to determine the biohazard classification as well as the safety precautions and containment facilities required for the microorganism in question. Bacterial strains and phage stocks can be obtained from research investigators, companies, and collections maintained by particular organizations such as the American Type Culture Collection
(ATCC). It is recommended that non-pathogenic strains be used when learning the various plating methods. By following the procedures described in this protocol, students should be able to:
● Perform plating procedures without contaminating media.
● Isolate single bacterial colonies by the streak-plating method.
● Use pour-plating and spread-plating methods to determine the concentration of bacteria.
● Perform soft agar overlays when working with phage.
● Transfer bacterial cells from one plate to another using the replica-plating procedure.
● Given an experimental task, select the appropriate plating method.
Basic Protocols, Issue 63, Streak plates, pour plates, soft agar overlays, spread plates, replica plates, bacteria, colonies, phage, plaques, dilutions
Simultaneous Quantification of T-Cell Receptor Excision Circles (TRECs) and K-Deleting Recombination Excision Circles (KRECs) by Real-time PCR
Institutions: Spedali Civili di Brescia.
T-cell receptor excision circles (TRECs) and K-deleting recombination excision circles (KRECs) are circularized DNA elements formed during recombination process that creates T- and B-cell receptors. Because TRECs and KRECs are unable to replicate, they are diluted after each cell division, and therefore persist in the cell. Their quantity in peripheral blood can be considered as an estimation of thymic and bone marrow output. By combining well established and commonly used TREC assay with a modified version of KREC assay, we have developed a duplex quantitative real-time PCR that allows quantification of both newly-produced T and B lymphocytes in a single assay. The number of TRECs and KRECs are obtained using a standard curve prepared by serially diluting TREC and KREC signal joints cloned in a bacterial plasmid, together with a fragment of T-cell receptor alpha constant gene that serves as reference gene. Results are reported as number of TRECs and KRECs/106
cells or per ml of blood. The quantification of these DNA fragments have been proven useful for monitoring immune reconstitution following bone marrow transplantation in both children and adults, for improved characterization of immune deficiencies, or for better understanding of certain immunomodulating drug activity.
Immunology, Issue 94, B lymphocytes, primary immunodeficiency, real-time PCR, immune recovery, T-cell homeostasis, T lymphocytes, thymic output, bone marrow output
Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation and Simultaneous Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Institutions: University of Queensland, Charité Universitätsmedizin.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is a noninvasive brain stimulation technique that uses weak electrical currents administered to the scalp to manipulate cortical excitability and, consequently, behavior and brain function. In the last decade, numerous studies have addressed short-term and long-term effects of tDCS on different measures of behavioral performance during motor and cognitive tasks, both in healthy individuals and in a number of different patient populations. So far, however, little is known about the neural underpinnings of tDCS-action in humans with regard to large-scale brain networks. This issue can be addressed by combining tDCS with functional brain imaging techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) or electroencephalography (EEG).
In particular, fMRI is the most widely used brain imaging technique to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying cognition and motor functions. Application of tDCS during fMRI allows analysis of the neural mechanisms underlying behavioral tDCS effects with high spatial resolution across the entire brain. Recent studies using this technique identified stimulation induced changes in task-related functional brain activity at the stimulation site and also in more distant brain regions, which were associated with behavioral improvement. In addition, tDCS administered during resting-state fMRI allowed identification of widespread changes in whole brain functional connectivity.
Future studies using this combined protocol should yield new insights into the mechanisms of tDCS action in health and disease and new options for more targeted application of tDCS in research and clinical settings. The present manuscript describes this novel technique in a step-by-step fashion, with a focus on technical aspects of tDCS administered during fMRI.
Behavior, Issue 86, noninvasive brain stimulation, transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), anodal stimulation (atDCS), cathodal stimulation (ctDCS), neuromodulation, task-related fMRI, resting-state fMRI, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), electroencephalography (EEG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG)
Assessment of Cerebral Lateralization in Children using Functional Transcranial Doppler Ultrasound (fTCD)
Institutions: University of Oxford.
There are many unanswered questions about cerebral lateralization. In particular, it remains unclear which aspects of language and nonverbal ability are lateralized, whether there are any disadvantages associated with atypical patterns of cerebral lateralization, and whether cerebral lateralization develops with age. In the past, researchers interested in these questions tended to use handedness as a proxy measure for cerebral lateralization, but this is unsatisfactory because handedness is only a weak and indirect indicator of laterality of cognitive functions1
. Other methods, such as fMRI, are expensive for large-scale studies, and not always feasible with children2
Here we will describe the use of functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound (fTCD) as a cost-effective, non-invasive and reliable method for assessing cerebral lateralization. The procedure involves measuring blood flow in the middle cerebral artery via an ultrasound probe placed just in front of the ear. Our work builds on work by Rune Aaslid, who co-introduced TCD in 1982, and Stefan Knecht, Michael Deppe and their colleagues at the University of Münster, who pioneered the use of simultaneous measurements of left- and right middle cerebral artery blood flow, and devised a method of correcting for heart beat activity. This made it possible to see a clear increase in left-sided blood flow during language generation, with lateralization agreeing well with that obtained using other methods3
The middle cerebral artery has a very wide vascular territory (see Figure 1) and the method does not provide useful information about localization within a hemisphere. Our experience suggests it is particularly sensitive to tasks that involve explicit or implicit speech production. The 'gold standard' task is a word generation task (e.g. think of as many words as you can that begin with the letter 'B') 4
, but this is not suitable for young children and others with limited literacy skills. Compared with other brain imaging methods, fTCD is relatively unaffected by movement artefacts from speaking, and so we are able to get a reliable result from tasks that involve describing pictures aloud5,6
. Accordingly, we have developed a child-friendly task that involves looking at video-clips that tell a story, and then describing what was seen.
Neuroscience, Issue 43, functional transcranial Doppler ultrasound, cerebral lateralization, language, child
Irrelevant Stimuli and Action Control: Analyzing the Influence of Ignored Stimuli via the Distractor-Response Binding Paradigm
Institutions: Trier University, Trier University.
Selection tasks in which simple stimuli (e.g.
letters) are presented and a target stimulus has to be selected against one or more distractor stimuli are frequently used in the research on human action control. One important question in these settings is how distractor stimuli, competing with the target stimulus for a response, influence actions. The distractor-response binding paradigm can be used to investigate this influence. It is particular useful to separately analyze response retrieval and distractor inhibition effects. Computer-based experiments are used to collect the data (reaction times and error rates). In a number of sequentially presented pairs of stimulus arrays (prime-probe design), participants respond to targets while ignoring distractor stimuli. Importantly, the factors response relation in the arrays of each pair (repetition vs. change) and distractor relation (repetition vs. change) are varied orthogonally. The repetition of the same distractor then has a different effect depending on response relation (repetition vs. change) between arrays. This result pattern can be explained by response retrieval due to distractor repetition. In addition, distractor inhibition effects are indicated by a general advantage due to distractor repetition. The described paradigm has proven useful to determine relevant parameters for response retrieval effects on human action.
Behavior, Issue 87, stimulus-response binding, distractor-response binding, response retrieval, distractor inhibition, event file, action control, selection task
Characterization of Complex Systems Using the Design of Experiments Approach: Transient Protein Expression in Tobacco as a Case Study
Institutions: RWTH Aachen University, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft.
Plants provide multiple benefits for the production of biopharmaceuticals including low costs, scalability, and safety. Transient expression offers the additional advantage of short development and production times, but expression levels can vary significantly between batches thus giving rise to regulatory concerns in the context of good manufacturing practice. We used a design of experiments (DoE) approach to determine the impact of major factors such as regulatory elements in the expression construct, plant growth and development parameters, and the incubation conditions during expression, on the variability of expression between batches. We tested plants expressing a model anti-HIV monoclonal antibody (2G12) and a fluorescent marker protein (DsRed). We discuss the rationale for selecting certain properties of the model and identify its potential limitations. The general approach can easily be transferred to other problems because the principles of the model are broadly applicable: knowledge-based parameter selection, complexity reduction by splitting the initial problem into smaller modules, software-guided setup of optimal experiment combinations and step-wise design augmentation. Therefore, the methodology is not only useful for characterizing protein expression in plants but also for the investigation of other complex systems lacking a mechanistic description. The predictive equations describing the interconnectivity between parameters can be used to establish mechanistic models for other complex systems.
Bioengineering, Issue 83, design of experiments (DoE), transient protein expression, plant-derived biopharmaceuticals, promoter, 5'UTR, fluorescent reporter protein, model building, incubation conditions, monoclonal antibody
Assessment of Age-related Changes in Cognitive Functions Using EmoCogMeter, a Novel Tablet-computer Based Approach
Institutions: Freie Universität Berlin, Charité Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich.
The main goal of this study was to assess the usability of a tablet-computer-based application (EmoCogMeter) in investigating the effects of age on cognitive functions across the lifespan in a sample of 378 healthy subjects (age range 18-89 years). Consistent with previous findings we found an age-related cognitive decline across a wide range of neuropsychological domains (memory, attention, executive functions), thereby proving the usability of our tablet-based application. Regardless of prior computer experience, subjects of all age groups were able to perform the tasks without instruction or feedback from an experimenter. Increased motivation and compliance proved to be beneficial for task performance, thereby potentially increasing the validity of the results. Our promising findings underline the great clinical and practical potential of a tablet-based application for detection and monitoring of cognitive dysfunction.
Behavior, Issue 84, Neuropsychological Testing, cognitive decline, age, tablet-computer, memory, attention, executive functions
Community-based Adapted Tango Dancing for Individuals with Parkinson's Disease and Older Adults
Institutions: Emory University School of Medicine, Brigham and Woman‘s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Adapted tango dancing improves mobility and balance in older adults and additional populations with balance impairments. It is composed of very simple step elements. Adapted tango involves movement initiation and cessation, multi-directional perturbations, varied speeds and rhythms. Focus on foot placement, whole body coordination, and attention to partner, path of movement, and aesthetics likely underlie adapted tango’s demonstrated efficacy for improving mobility and balance. In this paper, we describe the methodology to disseminate the adapted tango teaching methods to dance instructor trainees and to implement the adapted tango by the trainees in the community for older adults and individuals with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Efficacy in improving mobility (measured with the Timed Up and Go, Tandem stance, Berg Balance Scale, Gait Speed and 30 sec chair stand), safety and fidelity of the program is maximized through targeted instructor and volunteer training and a structured detailed syllabus outlining class practices and progression.
Behavior, Issue 94, Dance, tango, balance, pedagogy, dissemination, exercise, older adults, Parkinson's Disease, mobility impairments, falls
Cortical Source Analysis of High-Density EEG Recordings in Children
Institutions: UCL Institute of Child Health, University College London.
EEG is traditionally described as a neuroimaging technique with high temporal and low spatial resolution. Recent advances in biophysical modelling and signal processing make it possible to exploit information from other imaging modalities like structural MRI that provide high spatial resolution to overcome this constraint1
. This is especially useful for investigations that require high resolution in the temporal as well as spatial domain. In addition, due to the easy application and low cost of EEG recordings, EEG is often the method of choice when working with populations, such as young children, that do not tolerate functional MRI scans well. However, in order to investigate which neural substrates are involved, anatomical information from structural MRI is still needed. Most EEG analysis packages work with standard head models that are based on adult anatomy. The accuracy of these models when used for children is limited2
, because the composition and spatial configuration of head tissues changes dramatically over development3
In the present paper, we provide an overview of our recent work in utilizing head models based on individual structural MRI scans or age specific head models to reconstruct the cortical generators of high density EEG. This article describes how EEG recordings are acquired, processed, and analyzed with pediatric populations at the London Baby Lab, including laboratory setup, task design, EEG preprocessing, MRI processing, and EEG channel level and source analysis.
Behavior, Issue 88, EEG, electroencephalogram, development, source analysis, pediatric, minimum-norm estimation, cognitive neuroscience, event-related potentials
Eye Tracking Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The rise of accessible commercial eye-tracking systems has fueled a rapid increase in their use in psychological and psychiatric research. By providing a direct, detailed and objective measure of gaze behavior, eye-tracking has become a valuable tool for examining abnormal perceptual strategies in clinical populations and has been used to identify disorder-specific characteristics1
, promote early identification2
, and inform treatment3
. In particular, investigators of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have benefited from integrating eye-tracking into their research paradigms4-7
. Eye-tracking has largely been used in these studies to reveal mechanisms underlying impaired task performance8
and abnormal brain functioning9
, particularly during the processing of social information1,10-11
. While older children and adults with ASD comprise the preponderance of research in this area, eye-tracking may be especially useful for studying young children with the disorder as it offers a non-invasive tool for assessing and quantifying early-emerging developmental abnormalities2,12-13
. Implementing eye-tracking with young children with ASD, however, is associated with a number of unique challenges, including issues with compliant behavior resulting from specific task demands and disorder-related psychosocial considerations. In this protocol, we detail methodological considerations for optimizing research design, data acquisition and psychometric analysis while eye-tracking young children with ASD. The provided recommendations are also designed to be more broadly applicable for eye-tracking children with other developmental disabilities. By offering guidelines for best practices in these areas based upon lessons derived from our own work, we hope to help other investigators make sound research design and analysis choices while avoiding common pitfalls that can compromise data acquisition while eye-tracking young children with ASD or other developmental difficulties.
Medicine, Issue 61, eye tracking, autism, neurodevelopmental disorders, toddlers, perception, attention, social cognition
Operant Procedures for Assessing Behavioral Flexibility in Rats
Institutions: St. Mary's College of Maryland, University of British Columbia.
Executive functions consist of multiple high-level cognitive processes that drive rule generation and behavioral selection. An emergent property of these processes is the ability to adjust behavior in response to changes in one’s environment (i.e.
, behavioral flexibility). These processes are essential to normal human behavior, and may be disrupted in diverse neuropsychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia, alcoholism, depression, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding of the neurobiology of executive functions has been greatly advanced by the availability of animal tasks for assessing discrete components of behavioral flexibility, particularly strategy shifting and reversal learning. While several types of tasks have been developed, most are non-automated, labor intensive, and allow testing of only one animal at a time. The recent development of automated, operant-based tasks for assessing behavioral flexibility streamlines testing, standardizes stimulus presentation and data recording, and dramatically improves throughput. Here, we describe automated strategy shifting and reversal tasks, using operant chambers controlled by custom written software programs. Using these tasks, we have shown that the medial prefrontal cortex governs strategy shifting but not reversal learning in the rat, similar to the dissociation observed in humans. Moreover, animals with a neonatal hippocampal lesion, a neurodevelopmental model of schizophrenia, are selectively impaired on the strategy shifting task but not the reversal task. The strategy shifting task also allows the identification of separate types of performance errors, each of which is attributable to distinct neural substrates. The availability of these automated tasks, and the evidence supporting the dissociable contributions of separate prefrontal areas, makes them particularly well-suited assays for the investigation of basic neurobiological processes as well as drug discovery and screening in disease models.
Behavior, Issue 96, executive function, behavioral flexibility, prefrontal cortex, strategy shifting, reversal learning, behavioral neuroscience, schizophrenia, operant
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
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
The Double-H Maze: A Robust Behavioral Test for Learning and Memory in Rodents
Institutions: University Hospital Freiburg, UMR 7364 Université de Strasbourg, CNRS, Neuropôle de Strasbourg.
Spatial cognition research in rodents typically employs the use of maze tasks, whose attributes vary from one maze to the next. These tasks vary by their behavioral flexibility and required memory duration, the number of goals and pathways, and also the overall task complexity. A confounding feature in many of these tasks is the lack of control over the strategy employed by the rodents to reach the goal, e.g.,
allocentric (declarative-like) or egocentric (procedural) based strategies. The double-H maze is a novel water-escape memory task that addresses this issue, by allowing the experimenter to direct the type of strategy learned during the training period. The double-H maze is a transparent device, which consists of a central alleyway with three arms protruding on both sides, along with an escape platform submerged at the extremity of one of these arms.
Rats can be trained using an allocentric strategy by alternating the start position in the maze in an unpredictable manner (see protocol 1; §4.7), thus requiring them to learn the location of the platform based on the available allothetic cues. Alternatively, an egocentric learning strategy (protocol 2; §4.8) can be employed by releasing the rats from the same position during each trial, until they learn the procedural pattern required to reach the goal. This task has been proven to allow for the formation of stable memory traces.
Memory can be probed following the training period in a misleading probe trial, in which the starting position for the rats alternates. Following an egocentric learning paradigm, rats typically resort to an allocentric-based strategy, but only when their initial view on the extra-maze cues differs markedly from their original position. This task is ideally suited to explore the effects of drugs/perturbations on allocentric/egocentric memory performance, as well as the interactions between these two memory systems.
Behavior, Issue 101, Double-H maze, spatial memory, procedural memory, consolidation, allocentric, egocentric, habits, rodents, video tracking system
High Efficiency Differentiation of Human Pluripotent Stem Cells to Cardiomyocytes and Characterization by Flow Cytometry
Institutions: Medical College of Wisconsin, Stanford University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin, Hong Kong University, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Medical College of Wisconsin.
There is an urgent need to develop approaches for repairing the damaged heart, discovering new therapeutic drugs that do not have toxic effects on the heart, and improving strategies to accurately model heart disease. The potential of exploiting human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC) technology to generate cardiac muscle “in a dish” for these applications continues to generate high enthusiasm. In recent years, the ability to efficiently generate cardiomyogenic cells from human pluripotent stem cells (hPSCs) has greatly improved, offering us new opportunities to model very early stages of human cardiac development not otherwise accessible. In contrast to many previous methods, the cardiomyocyte differentiation protocol described here does not require cell aggregation or the addition of Activin A or BMP4 and robustly generates cultures of cells that are highly positive for cardiac troponin I and T (TNNI3, TNNT2), iroquois-class homeodomain protein IRX-4 (IRX4), myosin regulatory light chain 2, ventricular/cardiac muscle isoform (MLC2v) and myosin regulatory light chain 2, atrial isoform (MLC2a) by day 10 across all human embryonic stem cell (hESC) and hiPSC lines tested to date. Cells can be passaged and maintained for more than 90 days in culture. The strategy is technically simple to implement and cost-effective. Characterization of cardiomyocytes derived from pluripotent cells often includes the analysis of reference markers, both at the mRNA and protein level. For protein analysis, flow cytometry is a powerful analytical tool for assessing quality of cells in culture and determining subpopulation homogeneity. However, technical variation in sample preparation can significantly affect quality of flow cytometry data. Thus, standardization of staining protocols should facilitate comparisons among various differentiation strategies. Accordingly, optimized staining protocols for the analysis of IRX4, MLC2v, MLC2a, TNNI3, and TNNT2 by flow cytometry are described.
Cellular Biology, Issue 91, human induced pluripotent stem cell, flow cytometry, directed differentiation, cardiomyocyte, IRX4, TNNI3, TNNT2, MCL2v, MLC2a