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.
20 Related JoVE Articles!
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
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
Probing the Brain in Autism Using fMRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging
Institutions: University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Newly emerging theories suggest that the brain does not function as a cohesive unit in autism, and this discordance is reflected in the behavioral symptoms displayed by individuals with autism. While structural neuroimaging findings have provided some insights into brain abnormalities in autism, the consistency of such findings is questionable. Functional neuroimaging, on the other hand, has been more fruitful in this regard because autism is a disorder of dynamic processing and allows examination of communication between cortical networks, which appears to be where the underlying problem occurs in autism. Functional connectivity is defined as the temporal correlation of spatially separate neurological events1. Findings from a number of recent fMRI studies have supported the idea that there is weaker coordination between different parts of the brain that should be working together to accomplish complex social or language problems2,3,4,5,6
. One of the mysteries of autism is the coexistence of deficits in several domains along with relatively intact, sometimes enhanced, abilities. Such complex manifestation of autism calls for a global and comprehensive examination of the disorder at the neural level. A compelling recent account of the brain functioning in autism, the cortical underconnectivity theory,2,7
provides an integrating framework for the neurobiological bases of autism. The cortical underconnectivity theory of autism suggests that any language, social, or psychological function that is dependent on the integration of multiple brain regions is susceptible to disruption as the processing demand increases. In autism, the underfunctioning of integrative circuitry in the brain may cause widespread underconnectivity. In other words, people with autism may interpret information in a piecemeal fashion at the expense of the whole. Since cortical underconnectivity among brain regions, especially the frontal cortex and more posterior areas 3,6
, has now been relatively well established, we can begin to further understand brain connectivity as a critical component of autism symptomatology.
A logical next step in this direction is to examine the anatomical connections that may mediate the functional connections mentioned above. Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) is a relatively novel neuroimaging technique that helps probe the diffusion of water in the brain to infer the integrity of white matter fibers. In this technique, water diffusion in the brain is examined in several directions using diffusion gradients. While functional connectivity provides information about the synchronization of brain activation across different brain areas during a task or during rest, DTI helps in understanding the underlying axonal organization which may facilitate the cross-talk among brain areas. This paper will describe these techniques as valuable tools in understanding the brain in autism and the challenges involved in this line of research.
Medicine, Issue 55, Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), MRI, Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), Functional Connectivity, Neuroscience, Developmental disorders, Autism, Fractional Anisotropy
Brain Imaging Investigation of the Impairing Effect of Emotion on Cognition
Institutions: University of Alberta, University of Alberta, University of Illinois, Duke University , Duke University , VA Medical Center, Yale University, University of Illinois, University of Illinois.
Emotions can impact cognition by exerting both enhancing
(e.g., better memory for emotional events) and impairing
(e.g., increased emotional distractibility) effects (reviewed in 1
). Complementing our recent protocol 2
describing a method that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the memory-enhancing effect of emotion (see also 1, 3-5
), here we present a protocol that allows investigation of the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotion on cognition. The main feature of this method is that it allows identification of reciprocal modulations between activity in a ventral neural system, involved in 'hot' emotion processing (HotEmo
system), and a dorsal system, involved in higher-level 'cold' cognitive/executive processing (ColdEx
system), which are linked to cognitive performance and to individual variations in behavior (reviewed in 1
). Since its initial introduction 6
, this design has proven particularly versatile and influential in the elucidation of various aspects concerning the neural correlates of the detrimental impact of emotional distraction on cognition, with a focus on working memory (WM), and of coping with such distraction 7,11
, in both healthy 8-11
and clinical participants 12-14
Neuroscience, Issue 60, Emotion-Cognition Interaction, Cognitive/Emotional Interference, Task-Irrelevant Distraction, Neuroimaging, fMRI, MRI
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
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
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
Immunohistochemical Visualization of Hippocampal Neuron Activity After Spatial Learning in a Mouse Model of Neurodevelopmental Disorders
Institutions: University of Trento, CNR Neuroscience Institute, Pisa, Italy.
Induction of phosphorylated extracellular-regulated kinase (pERK) is a reliable molecular readout of learning-dependent neuronal activation. Here, we describe a pERK immunohistochemistry protocol to study the profile of hippocampal neuron activation following exposure to a spatial learning task in a mouse model characterized by cognitive deficits of neurodevelopmental origin. Specifically, we used pERK immunostaining to study neuronal activation following Morris water maze (MWM, a classical hippocampal-dependent learning task) in Engrailed-2 knockout (En2-/-
) mice, a model of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). As compared to wild-type (WT) controls, En2-/-
mice showed significant spatial learning deficits in the MWM. After MWM, significant differences in the number of pERK-positive neurons were detected in specific hippocampal subfields of En2-/-
mice, as compared to WT animals. Thus, our protocol can robustly detect differences in pERK-positive neurons associated to hippocampal-dependent learning impairment in a mouse model of ASD. More generally, our protocol can be applied to investigate the profile of hippocampal neuron activation in both genetic or pharmacological mouse models characterized by cognitive deficits.
Neuroscience, Issue 99, Immunohistochemistry, Morris water maze, ERK, hippocampus, cognition, memory, autism
Surface Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy Detection of Biomolecules Using EBL Fabricated Nanostructured Substrates
Institutions: University of Alberta, National Research Council of Canada.
Fabrication and characterization of conjugate nano-biological systems interfacing metallic nanostructures on solid supports with immobilized biomolecules is reported. The entire sequence of relevant experimental steps is described, involving the fabrication of nanostructured substrates using electron beam lithography, immobilization of biomolecules on the substrates, and their characterization utilizing surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Three different designs of nano-biological systems are employed, including protein A, glucose binding protein, and a dopamine binding DNA aptamer. In the latter two cases, the binding of respective ligands, D-glucose and dopamine, is also included. The three kinds of biomolecules are immobilized on nanostructured substrates by different methods, and the results of SERS imaging are reported. The capabilities of SERS to detect vibrational modes from surface-immobilized proteins, as well as to capture the protein-ligand and aptamer-ligand binding are demonstrated. The results also illustrate the influence of the surface nanostructure geometry, biomolecules immobilization strategy, Raman activity of the molecules and presence or absence of the ligand binding on the SERS spectra acquired.
Engineering, Issue 97, Bio-functionalized surfaces, proteins, aptamers, molecular recognition, nanostructures, electron beam lithography, surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy.
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
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
The Attentional Set Shifting Task: A Measure of Cognitive Flexibility in Mice
Institutions: University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, South Texas Veteran's Health Care System.
Cognitive impairment, particularly involving dysfunction of circuitry within the prefrontal cortex (PFC), represents a core feature of many neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorder. Deficits in cognitive function also represent the most difficult symptom domain to successfully treat, as serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants have only modest effects. Functional neuroimaging studies and postmortem analysis of human brain tissue implicate the PFC as being a primary region of dysregulation in patients with these disorders. However, preclinical behavioral assays used to assess these deficits in mouse models which can be readily manipulated genetically and could provide the basis for studies of new treatment avenues have been underutilized. Here we describe the adaptation of a behavioral assay, the attentional set shifting task (AST), to be performed in mice to assess prefrontal cortex mediated cognitive deficits. The neural circuits underlying behavior during the AST are highly conserved across humans, nonhuman primates and rodents, providing excellent face, construct and predictive validity.
Behavior, Issue 96, cognitive flexibility, prefrontal cortex, behavior, attention, mouse, neuropsychiatric symptom, cognitive dysfunction
Testing Sensory and Multisensory Function in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Institutions: Vanderbilt University Medical Center, University of Toronto, Vanderbilt University.
In addition to impairments in social communication and the presence of restricted interests and repetitive behaviors, deficits in sensory processing are now recognized as a core symptom in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Our ability to perceive and interact with the external world is rooted in sensory processing. For example, listening to a conversation entails processing the auditory cues coming from the speaker (speech content, prosody, syntax) as well as the associated visual information (facial expressions, gestures). Collectively, the “integration” of these multisensory (i.e.
, combined audiovisual) pieces of information results in better comprehension. Such multisensory integration has been shown to be strongly dependent upon the temporal relationship of the paired stimuli. Thus, stimuli that occur in close temporal proximity are highly likely to result in behavioral and perceptual benefits – gains believed to be reflective of the perceptual system's judgment of the likelihood that these two stimuli came from the same source. Changes in this temporal integration are expected to strongly alter perceptual processes, and are likely to diminish the ability to accurately perceive and interact with our world. Here, a battery of tasks designed to characterize various aspects of sensory and multisensory temporal processing in children with ASD is described. In addition to its utility in autism, this battery has great potential for characterizing changes in sensory function in other clinical populations, as well as being used to examine changes in these processes across the lifespan.
Behavior, Issue 98, Temporal processing, multisensory integration, psychophysics, computer based assessments, sensory deficits, autism spectrum disorder
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
Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (IPL): Investigating Language Comprehension in Typically Developing Toddlers and Young Children with Autism
Institutions: University of Connecticut.
One of the defining characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is difficulty with language and communication.1
Children with ASD's onset of speaking is usually delayed, and many children with ASD consistently produce language less frequently and of lower lexical and grammatical complexity than their typically developing (TD) peers.6,8,12,23
However, children with ASD also exhibit a significant social deficit, and researchers and clinicians continue to debate the extent to which the deficits in social interaction account for or contribute to the deficits in language production.5,14,19,25
Standardized assessments of language in children with ASD usually do include a comprehension component; however, many such comprehension tasks assess just one aspect of language (e.g.
or include a significant motor component (e.g.
, pointing, act-out), and/or require children to deliberately choose between a number of alternatives. These last two behaviors are known to also be challenging to children with ASD.7,12,13,16
We present a method which can assess the language comprehension of young typically developing children (9-36 months) and children with autism.2,4,9,11,22
This method, Portable Intermodal Preferential Looking (P-IPL), projects side-by-side video images from a laptop onto a portable screen. The video images are paired first with a 'baseline' (nondirecting) audio, and then presented again paired with a 'test' linguistic audio that matches only one of the video images. Children's eye movements while watching the video are filmed and later coded. Children who understand the linguistic audio will look more quickly to, and longer at, the video that matches the linguistic audio.2,4,11,18,22,26
This paradigm includes a number of components that have recently been miniaturized (projector, camcorder, digitizer) to enable portability and easy setup in children's homes. This is a crucial point for assessing young children with ASD, who are frequently uncomfortable in new (e.g.
, laboratory) settings. Videos can be created to assess a wide range of specific components of linguistic knowledge, such as Subject-Verb-Object word order, wh-questions, and tense/aspect suffixes on verbs; videos can also assess principles of word learning such as a noun bias, a shape bias, and syntactic bootstrapping.10,14,17,21,24
Videos include characters and speech that are visually and acoustically salient and well tolerated by children with ASD.
Medicine, Issue 70, Neuroscience, Psychology, Behavior, Intermodal preferential looking, language comprehension, children with autism, child development, autism
EEG Mu Rhythm in Typical and Atypical Development
Institutions: University of Washington, University of Washington.
Electroencephalography (EEG) is an effective, efficient, and noninvasive method of assessing and recording brain activity. Given the excellent temporal resolution, EEG can be used to examine the neural response related to specific behaviors, states, or external stimuli. An example of this utility is the assessment of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in humans through the examination of the EEG mu rhythm. The EEG mu rhythm, oscillatory activity in the 8-12 Hz frequency range recorded from centrally located electrodes, is suppressed when an individual executes, or simply observes, goal directed actions. As such, it has been proposed to reflect activity of the MNS. It has been theorized that dysfunction in the mirror neuron system (MNS) plays a contributing role in the social deficits of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The MNS can then be noninvasively examined in clinical populations by using EEG mu rhythm attenuation as an index for its activity. The described protocol provides an avenue to examine social cognitive functions theoretically linked to the MNS in individuals with typical and atypical development, such as ASD.
Medicine, Issue 86, Electroencephalography (EEG), mu rhythm, imitation, autism spectrum disorder, social cognition, mirror neuron system
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
Modulating Cognition Using Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation of the Cerebellum
Institutions: University of Birmingham.
Numerous studies have emerged recently that demonstrate the possibility of modulating, and in some cases enhancing, cognitive processes by exciting brain regions involved in working memory and attention using transcranial electrical brain stimulation. Some researchers now believe the cerebellum supports cognition, possibly via a remote neuromodulatory effect on the prefrontal cortex. This paper describes a procedure for investigating a role for the cerebellum in cognition using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and a selection of information-processing tasks of varying task difficulty, which have previously been shown to involve working memory, attention and cerebellar functioning. One task is called the Paced Auditory Serial Addition Task (PASAT) and the other a novel variant of this task called the Paced Auditory Serial Subtraction Task (PASST). A verb generation task and its two controls (noun and verb reading) were also investigated. All five tasks were performed by three separate groups of participants, before and after the modulation of cortico-cerebellar connectivity using anodal, cathodal or sham tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. The procedure demonstrates how performance (accuracy, verbal response latency and variability) could be selectively improved after cathodal stimulation, but only during tasks that the participants rated as difficult, and not easy. Performance was unchanged by anodal or sham stimulation. These findings demonstrate a role for the cerebellum in cognition, whereby activity in the left prefrontal cortex is likely dis-inhibited by cathodal tDCS over the right cerebellar cortex. Transcranial brain stimulation is growing in popularity in various labs and clinics. However, the after-effects of tDCS are inconsistent between individuals and not always polarity-specific, and may even be task- or load-specific, all of which requires further study. Future efforts might also be guided towards neuro-enhancement in cerebellar patients presenting with cognitive impairment once a better understanding of brain stimulation mechanisms has emerged.
Behavior, Issue 96, Cognition, working memory, tDCS, cerebellum, brain stimulation, neuro-modulation, neuro-enhancement
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
Straightforward Assay for Quantification of Social Avoidance in Drosophila melanogaster
Institutions: Yale University, York College/CUNY, Western Ontario University.
is an emerging model to study different aspects of social interactions. For example, flies avoid areas previously occupied by stressed conspecifics due to an odorant released during stress known as the Drosophila
stress odorant (dSO). Through the use of the T-maze apparatus, one can quantify the avoidance of the dSO by responder flies in a very affordable and robust assay. Conditions necessary to obtain a strong performance are presented here. A stressful experience is necessary for the flies to emit dSO, as well as enough emitter flies to cause a robust avoidance response to the presence of dSO. Genetic background, but not their group size, strongly altered the avoidance of the dSO by the responder flies. Canton-S and Elwood display a higher performance in avoiding the dSO than Oregon and Samarkand strains. This behavioral assay will allow identification of mechanisms underlying this social behavior, and the assessment of the influence of genes and environmental conditions on both emission and avoidance of the dSO. Such an assay can be included in batteries of simple diagnostic tests used to identify social deficiencies of mutants or environmental conditions of interest.
Neuroscience, Issue 94, social behavior, social avoidance, Drosophila melanogaster, Drosophila, Stress Odorant - dSO, T-maze apparatus, neurogenetics