Information coding in the Central Nervous System (CNS) remains unexplored. There is mounting evidence that, even at a very low level, the representation of a given stimulus might be dependent on context and history. If this is actually the case, bi-directional interactions between the brain (or if need be a reduced model of it) and sensory-motor system can shed a light on how encoding and decoding of information is performed. Here an experimental system is introduced and described in which the activity of a neuronal element (i.e., a network of neurons extracted from embryonic mammalian hippocampi) is given context and used to control the movement of an artificial agent, while environmental information is fed back to the culture as a sequence of electrical stimuli. This architecture allows a quick selection of diverse encoding, decoding, and learning algorithms to test different hypotheses on the computational properties of neuronal networks.
24 Related JoVE Articles!
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
A Coupled Experiment-finite Element Modeling Methodology for Assessing High Strain Rate Mechanical Response of Soft Biomaterials
Institutions: Mississippi State University, Mississippi State University.
This study offers a combined experimental and finite element (FE) simulation approach for examining the mechanical behavior of soft biomaterials (e.g.
brain, liver, tendon, fat, etc.
) when exposed to high strain rates. This study utilized a Split-Hopkinson Pressure Bar (SHPB) to generate strain rates of 100-1,500 sec-1
. The SHPB employed a striker bar consisting of a viscoelastic material (polycarbonate). A sample of the biomaterial was obtained shortly postmortem and prepared for SHPB testing. The specimen was interposed between the incident and transmitted bars, and the pneumatic components of the SHPB were activated to drive the striker bar toward the incident bar. The resulting impact generated a compressive stress wave (i.e.
incident wave) that traveled through the incident bar. When the compressive stress wave reached the end of the incident bar, a portion continued forward through the sample and transmitted bar (i.e.
transmitted wave) while another portion reversed through the incident bar as a tensile wave (i.e.
reflected wave). These waves were measured using strain gages mounted on the incident and transmitted bars. The true stress-strain behavior of the sample was determined from equations based on wave propagation and dynamic force equilibrium. The experimental stress-strain response was three dimensional in nature because the specimen bulged. As such, the hydrostatic stress (first invariant) was used to generate the stress-strain response. In order to extract the uniaxial (one-dimensional) mechanical response of the tissue, an iterative coupled optimization was performed using experimental results and Finite Element Analysis (FEA), which contained an Internal State Variable (ISV) material model used for the tissue. The ISV material model used in the FE simulations of the experimental setup was iteratively calibrated (i.e.
optimized) to the experimental data such that the experiment and FEA strain gage values and first invariant of stresses were in good agreement.
Bioengineering, Issue 99, Split-Hopkinson Pressure Bar, High Strain Rate, Finite Element Modeling, Soft Biomaterials, Dynamic Experiments, Internal State Variable Modeling, Brain, Liver, Tendon, Fat
Methods to Characterize Spontaneous and Startle-induced Locomotion in a Rotenone-induced Parkinson's Disease Model of Drosophila
Institutions: Colby College.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that results from the degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the central nervous system, primarily in the substantia nigra. The disease causes motor deficiencies, which present as rigidity, tremors and dementia in humans. Rotenone is an insecticide that causes oxidative damage by inhibiting the function of the electron transport chain in mitochondria. It is also used to model Parkinson’s disease in the Drosophila
. Flies have an inherent negative geotactic response, which compels them to climb upwards upon being startled. It has been established that rotenone causes early mortality and locomotion defects that disrupt the flies’ ability to climb after they have been tapped downwards. However, the effect of rotenone on spontaneous movement is not well documented. This study outlines two sensitive, reproducible, and high throughput assays to characterize rotenone-induced deficiencies in short-term startle-induced locomotion and long-term spontaneous locomotion in Drosophila
. These assays can be conveniently adapted to characterize other Drosophila
models of locomotion defects and efficacy of therapeutic agents.
Neuroscience, Issue 90, Locomotion, Parkinson’s disease, rotenone, Drosophila, activity monitoring, neurobiology, behavior
Using Insect Electroantennogram Sensors on Autonomous Robots for Olfactory Searches
Institutions: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Institut d'Ecologie et des Sciences de l'Environnement de Paris, Institut Pasteur.
Robots designed to track chemical leaks in hazardous industrial facilities1
or explosive traces in landmine fields2
face the same problem as insects foraging for food or searching for mates3
: the olfactory search is constrained by the physics of turbulent transport4
. The concentration landscape of wind borne odors is discontinuous and consists of sporadically located patches. A pre-requisite to olfactory search is that intermittent odor patches are detected. Because of its high speed and sensitivity5-6
, the olfactory organ of insects provides a unique opportunity for detection. Insect antennae have been used in the past to detect not only sex pheromones7
but also chemicals that are relevant to humans, e.g.
, volatile compounds emanating from cancer cells8
or toxic and illicit substances9-11
. We describe here a protocol for using insect antennae on autonomous robots and present a proof of concept for tracking odor plumes to their source. The global response of olfactory neurons is recorded in situ
in the form of electroantennograms (EAGs). Our experimental design, based on a whole insect preparation, allows stable recordings within a working day. In comparison, EAGs on excised antennae have a lifetime of 2 hr. A custom hardware/software interface was developed between the EAG electrodes and a robot. The measurement system resolves individual odor patches up to 10 Hz, which exceeds the time scale of artificial chemical sensors12
. The efficiency of EAG sensors for olfactory searches is further demonstrated in driving the robot toward a source of pheromone. By using identical olfactory stimuli and sensors as in real animals, our robotic platform provides a direct means for testing biological hypotheses about olfactory coding and search strategies13
. It may also prove beneficial for detecting other odorants of interests by combining EAGs from different insect species in a bioelectronic nose configuration14
or using nanostructured gas sensors that mimic insect antennae15
Neuroscience, Issue 90, robotics, electroantennogram, EAG, gas sensor, electronic nose, olfactory search, surge and casting, moth, insect, olfaction, neuron
Rapid and Low-cost Prototyping of Medical Devices Using 3D Printed Molds for Liquid Injection Molding
Institutions: University of California, San Francisco, University of California, San Francisco, University of Southern California.
Biologically inert elastomers such as silicone are favorable materials for medical device fabrication, but forming and curing these elastomers using traditional liquid injection molding processes can be an expensive process due to tooling and equipment costs. As a result, it has traditionally been impractical to use liquid injection molding for low-cost, rapid prototyping applications. We have devised a method for rapid and low-cost production of liquid elastomer injection molded devices that utilizes fused deposition modeling 3D printers for mold design and a modified desiccator as an injection system. Low costs and rapid turnaround time in this technique lower the barrier to iteratively designing and prototyping complex elastomer devices. Furthermore, CAD models developed in this process can be later adapted for metal mold tooling design, enabling an easy transition to a traditional injection molding process. We have used this technique to manufacture intravaginal probes involving complex geometries, as well as overmolding over metal parts, using tools commonly available within an academic research laboratory. However, this technique can be easily adapted to create liquid injection molded devices for many other applications.
Bioengineering, Issue 88, liquid injection molding, reaction injection molding, molds, 3D printing, fused deposition modeling, rapid prototyping, medical devices, low cost, low volume, rapid turnaround time.
Rapid Genotyping of Animals Followed by Establishing Primary Cultures of Brain Neurons
Institutions: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, EZ BioResearch LLC.
High-resolution analysis of the morphology and function of mammalian neurons often requires the genotyping of individual animals followed by the analysis of primary cultures of neurons. We describe a set of procedures for: labeling newborn mice to be genotyped, rapid genotyping, and establishing low-density cultures of brain neurons from these mice. Individual mice are labeled by tattooing, which allows for long-term identification lasting into adulthood. Genotyping by the described protocol is fast and efficient, and allows for automated extraction of nucleic acid with good reliability. This is useful under circumstances where sufficient time for conventional genotyping is not available, e.g.,
in mice that suffer from neonatal lethality. Primary neuronal cultures are generated at low density, which enables imaging experiments at high spatial resolution. This culture method requires the preparation of glial feeder layers prior to neuronal plating. The protocol is applied in its entirety to a mouse model of the movement disorder DYT1 dystonia (ΔE-torsinA knock-in mice), and neuronal cultures are prepared from the hippocampus, cerebral cortex and striatum of these mice. This protocol can be applied to mice with other genetic mutations, as well as to animals of other species. Furthermore, individual components of the protocol can be used for isolated sub-projects. Thus this protocol will have wide applications, not only in neuroscience but also in other fields of biological and medical sciences.
Neuroscience, Issue 95, AP2, genotyping, glial feeder layer, mouse tail, neuronal culture, nucleic-acid extraction, PCR, tattoo, torsinA
A Manual Small Molecule Screen Approaching High-throughput Using Zebrafish Embryos
Institutions: University of Notre Dame.
Zebrafish have become a widely used model organism to investigate the mechanisms that underlie developmental biology and to study human disease pathology due to their considerable degree of genetic conservation with humans. Chemical genetics entails testing the effect that small molecules have on a biological process and is becoming a popular translational research method to identify therapeutic compounds. Zebrafish are specifically appealing to use for chemical genetics because of their ability to produce large clutches of transparent embryos, which are externally fertilized. Furthermore, zebrafish embryos can be easily drug treated by the simple addition of a compound to the embryo media. Using whole-mount in situ
hybridization (WISH), mRNA expression can be clearly visualized within zebrafish embryos. Together, using chemical genetics and WISH, the zebrafish becomes a potent whole organism context in which to determine the cellular and physiological effects of small molecules. Innovative advances have been made in technologies that utilize machine-based screening procedures, however for many labs such options are not accessible or remain cost-prohibitive. The protocol described here explains how to execute a manual high-throughput chemical genetic screen that requires basic resources and can be accomplished by a single individual or small team in an efficient period of time. Thus, this protocol provides a feasible strategy that can be implemented by research groups to perform chemical genetics in zebrafish, which can be useful for gaining fundamental insights into developmental processes, disease mechanisms, and to identify novel compounds and signaling pathways that have medically relevant applications.
Developmental Biology, Issue 93, zebrafish, chemical genetics, chemical screen, in vivo small molecule screen, drug discovery, whole mount in situ hybridization (WISH), high-throughput screening (HTS), high-content screening (HCS)
In Situ Neutron Powder Diffraction Using Custom-made Lithium-ion Batteries
Institutions: University of Sydney, University of Wollongong, Australian Synchrotron, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, University of Wollongong, University of New South Wales.
Li-ion batteries are widely used in portable electronic devices and are considered as promising candidates for higher-energy applications such as electric vehicles.1,2
However, many challenges, such as energy density and battery lifetimes, need to be overcome before this particular battery technology can be widely implemented in such applications.3
This research is challenging, and we outline a method to address these challenges using in situ
NPD to probe the crystal structure of electrodes undergoing electrochemical cycling (charge/discharge) in a battery. NPD data help determine the underlying structural mechanism responsible for a range of electrode properties, and this information can direct the development of better electrodes and batteries.
We briefly review six types of battery designs custom-made for NPD experiments and detail the method to construct the ‘roll-over’ cell that we have successfully used on the high-intensity NPD instrument, WOMBAT, at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The design considerations and materials used for cell construction are discussed in conjunction with aspects of the actual in situ
NPD experiment and initial directions are presented on how to analyze such complex in situ
Physics, Issue 93, In operando, structure-property relationships, electrochemical cycling, electrochemical cells, crystallography, battery performance
Adapting Human Videofluoroscopic Swallow Study Methods to Detect and Characterize Dysphagia in Murine Disease Models
Institutions: University of Missouri, University of Missouri, University of Missouri.
This study adapted human videofluoroscopic swallowing study (VFSS) methods for use with murine disease models for the purpose of facilitating translational dysphagia research. Successful outcomes are dependent upon three critical components: test chambers that permit self-feeding while standing unrestrained in a confined space, recipes that mask the aversive taste/odor of commercially-available oral contrast agents, and a step-by-step test protocol that permits quantification of swallow physiology. Elimination of one or more of these components will have a detrimental impact on the study results. Moreover, the energy level capability of the fluoroscopy system will determine which swallow parameters can be investigated. Most research centers have high energy fluoroscopes designed for use with people and larger animals, which results in exceptionally poor image quality when testing mice and other small rodents. Despite this limitation, we have identified seven VFSS parameters that are consistently quantifiable in mice when using a high energy fluoroscope in combination with the new murine VFSS protocol. We recently obtained a low energy fluoroscopy system with exceptionally high imaging resolution and magnification capabilities that was designed for use with mice and other small rodents. Preliminary work using this new system, in combination with the new murine VFSS protocol, has identified 13 swallow parameters that are consistently quantifiable in mice, which is nearly double the number obtained using conventional (i.e.,
high energy) fluoroscopes. Identification of additional swallow parameters is expected as we optimize the capabilities of this new system. Results thus far demonstrate the utility of using a low energy fluoroscopy system to detect and quantify subtle changes in swallow physiology that may otherwise be overlooked when using high energy fluoroscopes to investigate murine disease models.
Medicine, Issue 97, mouse, murine, rodent, swallowing, deglutition, dysphagia, videofluoroscopy, radiation, iohexol, barium, palatability, taste, translational, disease models
Investigating the Spreading and Toxicity of Prion-like Proteins Using the Metazoan Model Organism C. elegans
Institutions: Northwestern University.
Prions are unconventional self-propagating proteinaceous particles, devoid of any coding nucleic acid. These proteinaceous seeds serve as templates for the conversion and replication of their benign cellular isoform. Accumulating evidence suggests that many protein aggregates can act as self-propagating templates and corrupt the folding of cognate proteins. Although aggregates can be functional under certain circumstances, this process often leads to the disruption of the cellular protein homeostasis (proteostasis), eventually leading to devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs). The exact mechanisms of prion propagation and cell-to-cell spreading of protein aggregates are still subjects of intense investigation. To further this knowledge, recently a new metazoan model in Caenorhabditis elegans
, for expression of the prion domain of the cytosolic yeast prion protein Sup35 has been established. This prion model offers several advantages, as it allows direct monitoring of the fluorescently tagged prion domain in living animals and ease of genetic approaches. Described here are methods to study prion-like behavior of protein aggregates and to identify modifiers of prion-induced toxicity using C. elegans
Cellular Biology, Issue 95, Caenorhabditis elegans, neurodegenerative diseases, protein misfolding diseases, prion-like spreading, cell-to-cell transmission, protein aggregation, non-cell autonomous toxicity, proteostasis
Ablation of a Single Cell From Eight-cell Embryos of the Amphipod Crustacean Parhyale hawaiensis
Institutions: Harvard University.
The amphipod Parhyale hawaiensis
is a small crustacean found in intertidal marine habitats worldwide. Over the past decade, Parhyale
has emerged as a promising model organism for laboratory studies of development, providing a useful outgroup comparison to the well studied arthropod model organism Drosophila melanogaster
. In contrast to the syncytial cleavages of Drosophila
, the early cleavages of Parhyale
are holoblastic. Fate mapping using tracer dyes injected into early blastomeres have shown that all three germ layers and the germ line are established by the eight-cell stage. At this stage, three blastomeres are fated to give rise to the ectoderm, three are fated to give rise to the mesoderm, and the remaining two blastomeres are the precursors of the endoderm and germ line respectively. However, blastomere ablation experiments have shown that Parhyale
embryos also possess significant regulatory capabilities, such that the fates of blastomeres ablated at the eight-cell stage can be taken over by the descendants of some of the remaining blastomeres. Blastomere ablation has previously been described by one of two methods: injection and subsequent activation of phototoxic dyes or manual ablation. However, photoablation kills blastomeres but does not remove the dead cell body from the embryo. Complete physical removal of specific blastomeres may therefore be a preferred method of ablation for some applications. Here we present a protocol for manual removal of single blastomeres from the eight-cell stage of Parhyale
embryos, illustrating the instruments and manual procedures necessary for complete removal of the cell body while keeping the remaining blastomeres alive and intact. This protocol can be applied to any Parhyale
cell at the eight-cell stage, or to blastomeres of other early cleavage stages. In addition, in principle this protocol could be applicable to early cleavage stage embryos of other holoblastically cleaving marine invertebrates.
Developmental Biology, Issue 85, Amphipod, experimental embryology, micromere, germ line, ablation, developmental potential, vasa
Engineering Platform and Experimental Protocol for Design and Evaluation of a Neurally-controlled Powered Transfemoral Prosthesis
Institutions: North Carolina State University & University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Atlantic Prosthetics & Orthotics, LLC.
To enable intuitive operation of powered artificial legs, an interface between user and prosthesis that can recognize the user's movement intent is desired. A novel neural-machine interface (NMI) based on neuromuscular-mechanical fusion developed in our previous study has demonstrated a great potential to accurately identify the intended movement of transfemoral amputees. However, this interface has not yet been integrated with a powered prosthetic leg for true neural control. This study aimed to report (1) a flexible platform to implement and optimize neural control of powered lower limb prosthesis and (2) an experimental setup and protocol to evaluate neural prosthesis control on patients with lower limb amputations. First a platform based on a PC and a visual programming environment were developed to implement the prosthesis control algorithms, including NMI training algorithm, NMI online testing algorithm, and intrinsic control algorithm. To demonstrate the function of this platform, in this study the NMI based on neuromuscular-mechanical fusion was hierarchically integrated with intrinsic control of a prototypical transfemoral prosthesis. One patient with a unilateral transfemoral amputation was recruited to evaluate our implemented neural controller when performing activities, such as standing, level-ground walking, ramp ascent, and ramp descent continuously in the laboratory. A novel experimental setup and protocol were developed in order to test the new prosthesis control safely and efficiently. The presented proof-of-concept platform and experimental setup and protocol could aid the future development and application of neurally-controlled powered artificial legs.
Biomedical Engineering, Issue 89, neural control, powered transfemoral prosthesis, electromyography (EMG), neural-machine interface, experimental setup and protocol
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
High-Resolution Video Tracking of Locomotion in Adult Drosophila Melanogaster
Flies provide an important model for studying complex behavior due to the plethora of genetic tools available to researchers in this field. Studying locomotor behavior in Drosophila melanogaster
relies on the ability to be able to quantify changes in motion during or in response to a given task. For this reason, a high-resolution video tracking system, such as the one we describe in this paper, is a valuable tool for measuring locomotion in real-time. Our protocol involves the use of an initial air pulse to break the flies momentum, followed by a thirty second filming period in a square chamber. A tracking program is then used to calculate the instantaneous speed of each fly within the chamber in 10 msec increments. Analysis software then compiles this data, and outputs a variety of parameters such as average speed, max speed, time spent in motion, acceleration, etc. This protocol will discuss proper feeding and management of flies for behavioral tasks, handling flies without anesthetization or immobilization, setting up a controlled environment, and running the assay from start to finish.
Neuroscience, Issue 24, behavior, Drosophila, locomotion, video, tracking, air pulse
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
Haptic/Graphic Rehabilitation: Integrating a Robot into a Virtual Environment Library and Applying it to Stroke Therapy
Institutions: University of Illinois at Chicago and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Recent research that tests interactive devices for prolonged therapy practice has revealed new prospects for robotics combined with graphical and other forms of biofeedback. Previous human-robot interactive systems have required different software commands to be implemented for each robot leading to unnecessary developmental overhead time each time a new system becomes available. For example, when a haptic/graphic virtual reality environment has been coded for one specific robot to provide haptic feedback, that specific robot would not be able to be traded for another robot without recoding the program. However, recent efforts in the open source community have proposed a wrapper class approach that can elicit nearly identical responses regardless of the robot used. The result can lead researchers across the globe to perform similar experiments using shared code. Therefore modular "switching out"of one robot for another would not affect development time. In this paper, we outline the successful creation and implementation of a wrapper class for one robot into the open-source H3DAPI, which integrates the software commands most commonly used by all robots.
Bioengineering, Issue 54, robotics, haptics, virtual reality, wrapper class, rehabilitation robotics, neural engineering, H3DAPI, C++
In vitro Assembly of Semi-artificial Molecular Machine and its Use for Detection of DNA Damage
Institutions: Baylor College of Medicine , Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine .
Naturally occurring bio-molecular machines work in every living cell and display a variety of designs 1-6
. Yet the development of artificial molecular machines centers on devices capable of directional motion, i.e. molecular motors, and on their scaled-down mechanical parts (wheels, axels, pendants etc) 7-9
. This imitates the macro-machines, even though the physical properties essential for these devices, such as inertia and momentum conservation, are not usable in the nanoworld environments 10
. Alternative designs, which do not follow the mechanical macromachines schemes and use mechanisms developed in the evolution of biological molecules, can take advantage of the specific conditions of the nanoworld. Besides, adapting actual biological molecules for the purposes of nano-design reduces potential dangers the nanotechnology products may pose. Here we demonstrate the assembly and application of one such bio-enabled construct, a semi-artificial molecular device which combines a naturally-occurring molecular machine with artificial components. From the enzymology point of view, our construct is a designer fluorescent enzyme-substrate complex put together to perform a specific useful function. This assembly is by definition a molecular machine, as it contains one 12
. Yet, its integration with the engineered part - fluorescent dual hairpin - re-directs it to a new task of labeling DNA damage12
Our construct assembles out of a 32-mer DNA and an enzyme vaccinia topoisomerase I (VACC TOPO). The machine then uses its own material to fabricate two fluorescently labeled detector units (Figure 1). One of the units (green fluorescence) carries VACC TOPO covalently attached to its 3'end and another unit (red fluorescence) is a free hairpin with a terminal 3'OH. The units are short-lived and quickly reassemble back into the original construct, which subsequently recleaves. In the absence of DNA breaks these two units continuously separate and religate in a cyclic manner. In tissue sections with DNA damage, the topoisomerase-carrying detector unit selectively attaches to blunt-ended DNA breaks with 5'OH (DNase II-type breaks)11,12
, fluorescently labeling them. The second, enzyme-free hairpin formed after oligonucleotide cleavage, will ligate to a 5'PO4
blunt-ended break (DNase I-type breaks)11,12
, if T4 DNA ligase is present in the solution 13,14
. When T4 DNA ligase is added to a tissue section or a solution containing DNA with 5'PO4
blunt-ended breaks, the ligase reacts with 5'PO4
DNA ends, forming semi-stable enzyme-DNA complexes. The blunt ended hairpins will interact with these complexes releasing ligase and covalently linking hairpins to DNA, thus labeling 5'PO4
blunt-ended DNA breaks.
This development exemplifies a new practical approach to the design of molecular machines and provides a useful sensor for detection of apoptosis and DNA damage in fixed cells and tissues.
Bioengineering, Issue 59, molecular machine, bio-nanotechnology, 5'OH DNA breaks, 5'PO4 DNA breaks, apoptosis labeling, in situ detection, vaccinia topoisomerase I, DNA breaks, green nanotechnology
Perceptual and Category Processing of the Uncanny Valley Hypothesis' Dimension of Human Likeness: Some Methodological Issues
Institutions: University of Zurich.
Mori's Uncanny Valley Hypothesis1,2
proposes that the perception of humanlike characters such as robots and, by extension, avatars (computer-generated characters) can evoke negative or positive affect (valence) depending on the object's degree of visual and behavioral realism along a dimension of human likeness
) (Figure 1
). But studies of affective valence of subjective responses to variously realistic non-human characters have produced inconsistent findings 3, 4, 5, 6
. One of a number of reasons for this is that human likeness is not perceived as the hypothesis assumes. While the DHL can be defined following Mori's description as a smooth linear change in the degree of physical humanlike similarity, subjective perception of objects along the DHL can be understood in terms of the psychological effects of categorical perception (CP) 7
. Further behavioral and neuroimaging investigations of category processing and CP along the DHL and of the potential influence of the dimension's underlying category structure on affective experience are needed. This protocol therefore focuses on the DHL and allows examination of CP. Based on the protocol presented in the video as an example, issues surrounding the methodology in the protocol and the use in "uncanny" research of stimuli drawn from morph continua to represent the DHL are discussed in the article that accompanies the video. The use of neuroimaging and morph stimuli to represent the DHL in order to disentangle brain regions neurally responsive to physical human-like similarity from those responsive to category change and category processing is briefly illustrated.
Behavior, Issue 76, Neuroscience, Neurobiology, Molecular Biology, Psychology, Neuropsychology, uncanny valley, functional magnetic resonance imaging, fMRI, categorical perception, virtual reality, avatar, human likeness, Mori, uncanny valley hypothesis, perception, magnetic resonance imaging, MRI, imaging, clinical techniques
Development of an Audio-based Virtual Gaming Environment to Assist with Navigation Skills in the Blind
Institutions: Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Harvard Medical School, University of Chile .
Audio-based Environment Simulator (AbES) is virtual environment software designed to improve real world navigation skills in the blind. Using only audio based cues and set within the context of a video game metaphor, users gather relevant spatial information regarding a building's layout. This allows the user to develop an accurate spatial cognitive map of a large-scale three-dimensional space that can be manipulated for the purposes of a real indoor navigation task. After game play, participants are then assessed on their ability to navigate within the target physical building represented in the game. Preliminary results suggest that early blind users were able to acquire relevant information regarding the spatial layout of a previously unfamiliar building as indexed by their performance on a series of navigation tasks. These tasks included path finding through the virtual and physical building, as well as a series of drop off tasks. We find that the immersive and highly interactive nature of the AbES software appears to greatly engage the blind user to actively explore the virtual environment. Applications of this approach may extend to larger populations of visually impaired individuals.
Medicine, Issue 73, Behavior, Neuroscience, Anatomy, Physiology, Neurobiology, Ophthalmology, Psychology, Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms, Technology, Industry, virtual environments, action video games, blind, audio, rehabilitation, indoor navigation, spatial cognitive map, Audio-based Environment Simulator, virtual reality, cognitive psychology, clinical techniques
High-throughput, Automated Extraction of DNA and RNA from Clinical Samples using TruTip Technology on Common Liquid Handling Robots
Institutions: Akonni Biosystems, Inc., Akonni Biosystems, Inc., Akonni Biosystems, Inc., Akonni Biosystems, Inc..
TruTip is a simple nucleic acid extraction technology whereby a porous, monolithic binding matrix is inserted into a pipette tip. The geometry of the monolith can be adapted for specific pipette tips ranging in volume from 1.0 to 5.0 ml. The large porosity of the monolith enables viscous or complex samples to readily pass through it with minimal fluidic backpressure. Bi-directional flow maximizes residence time between the monolith and sample, and enables large sample volumes to be processed within a single TruTip. The fundamental steps, irrespective of sample volume or TruTip geometry, include cell lysis, nucleic acid binding to the inner pores of the TruTip monolith, washing away unbound sample components and lysis buffers, and eluting purified and concentrated nucleic acids into an appropriate buffer. The attributes and adaptability of TruTip are demonstrated in three automated clinical sample processing protocols using an Eppendorf epMotion 5070, Hamilton STAR and STARplus liquid handling robots, including RNA isolation from nasopharyngeal aspirate, genomic DNA isolation from whole blood, and fetal DNA extraction and enrichment from large volumes of maternal plasma (respectively).
Genetics, Issue 76, Bioengineering, Biomedical Engineering, Molecular Biology, Automation, Laboratory, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, Analytic Sample Preparation Methods, Clinical Laboratory Techniques, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, Genetic Techniques, Molecular Diagnostic Techniques, Automation, Laboratory, Chemistry, Clinical, DNA/RNA extraction, automation, nucleic acid isolation, sample preparation, nasopharyngeal aspirate, blood, plasma, high-throughput, sequencing
Protein WISDOM: A Workbench for In silico De novo Design of BioMolecules
Institutions: Princeton University.
The aim of de novo
protein design is to find the amino acid sequences that will fold into a desired 3-dimensional structure with improvements in specific properties, such as binding affinity, agonist or antagonist behavior, or stability, relative to the native sequence. Protein design lies at the center of current advances drug design and discovery. Not only does protein design provide predictions for potentially useful drug targets, but it also enhances our understanding of the protein folding process and protein-protein interactions. Experimental methods such as directed evolution have shown success in protein design. However, such methods are restricted by the limited sequence space that can be searched tractably. In contrast, computational design strategies allow for the screening of a much larger set of sequences covering a wide variety of properties and functionality. We have developed a range of computational de novo
protein design methods capable of tackling several important areas of protein design. These include the design of monomeric proteins for increased stability and complexes for increased binding affinity.
To disseminate these methods for broader use we present Protein WISDOM (https://www.proteinwisdom.org), a tool that provides automated methods for a variety of protein design problems. Structural templates are submitted to initialize the design process. The first stage of design is an optimization sequence selection stage that aims at improving stability through minimization of potential energy in the sequence space. Selected sequences are then run through a fold specificity stage and a binding affinity stage. A rank-ordered list of the sequences for each step of the process, along with relevant designed structures, provides the user with a comprehensive quantitative assessment of the design. Here we provide the details of each design method, as well as several notable experimental successes attained through the use of the methods.
Genetics, Issue 77, Molecular Biology, Bioengineering, Biochemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Computational Biology, Genomics, Proteomics, Protein, Protein Binding, Computational Biology, Drug Design, optimization (mathematics), Amino Acids, Peptides, and Proteins, De novo protein and peptide design, Drug design, In silico sequence selection, Optimization, Fold specificity, Binding affinity, sequencing
Designing and Implementing Nervous System Simulations on LEGO Robots
Institutions: Northeastern University, Bremen University of Applied Sciences.
We present a method to use the commercially available LEGO Mindstorms NXT robotics platform to test systems level neuroscience hypotheses. The first step of the method is to develop a nervous system simulation of specific reflexive behaviors of an appropriate model organism; here we use the American Lobster. Exteroceptive reflexes mediated by decussating (crossing) neural connections can explain an animal's taxis towards or away from a stimulus as described by Braitenberg and are particularly well suited for investigation using the NXT platform.1
The nervous system simulation is programmed using LabVIEW software on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. Once the nervous system is tuned properly, behavioral experiments are run on the robot and on the animal under identical environmental conditions. By controlling the sensory milieu experienced by the specimens, differences in behavioral outputs can be observed. These differences may point to specific deficiencies in the nervous system model and serve to inform the iteration of the model for the particular behavior under study. This method allows for the experimental manipulation of electronic nervous systems and serves as a way to explore neuroscience hypotheses specifically regarding the neurophysiological basis of simple innate reflexive behaviors. The LEGO Mindstorms NXT kit provides an affordable and efficient platform on which to test preliminary biomimetic robot control schemes. The approach is also well suited for the high school classroom to serve as the foundation for a hands-on inquiry-based biorobotics curriculum.
Neuroscience, Issue 75, Neurobiology, Bioengineering, Behavior, Mechanical Engineering, Computer Science, Marine Biology, Biomimetics, Marine Science, Neurosciences, Synthetic Biology, Robotics, robots, Modeling, models, Sensory Fusion, nervous system, Educational Tools, programming, software, lobster, Homarus americanus, animal model
Three-dimensional Confocal Analysis of Microglia/macrophage Markers of Polarization in Experimental Brain Injury
Institutions: IRCCS - Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri.
After brain stroke microglia/macrophages (M/M) undergo rapid activation with dramatic morphological and phenotypic changes that include expression of novel surface antigens and production of mediators that build up and maintain the inflammatory response. Emerging evidence indicates that M/M are highly plastic cells that can assume classic pro-inflammatory (M1) or alternative anti-inflammatory (M2) activation after acute brain injury. However a complete characterization of M/M phenotype marker expression, their colocalization and temporal evolution in the injured brain is still missing.
Immunofluorescence protocols specifically staining relevant markers of M/M activation can be performed in the ischemic brain. Here we present immunofluorescence-based protocols followed by three-dimensional confocal analysis as a powerful approach to investigate the pattern of localization and co-expression of M/M phenotype markers such as CD11b, CD68, Ym1, in mouse model of focal ischemia induced by permanent occlusion of the middle cerebral artery (pMCAO). Two-dimensional analysis of the stained area reveals that each marker is associated to a defined M/M morphology and has a given localization in the ischemic lesion. Patterns of M/M phenotype marker co-expression can be assessed by three-dimensional confocal imaging in the ischemic area. Images can be acquired over a defined volume (10 μm z-axis and a 0.23 μm step size, corresponding to a 180 x 135 x 10 μm volume) with a sequential scanning mode to minimize bleed-through effects and avoid wavelength overlapping. Images are then processed to obtain three-dimensional renderings by means of Imaris software. Solid view of three dimensional renderings allows the definition of marker expression in clusters of cells. We show that M/M have the ability to differentiate towards a multitude of phenotypes, depending on the location in the lesion site and time after injury.
Neurobiology, Issue 79, Neuroscience, Molecular Biology, Cellular Biology, Medicine, Biomedical Engineering, Anatomy, Physiology, Central Nervous System Diseases, Neurodegenerative Diseases, biology (general), immunology, life sciences, animal models, Inflammation, stroke, alternative activation, brain injury, brain, imaging, confocal microscopy, three-dimensional imaging, clinical techniques, mouse, animal model
Molecular Evolution of the Tre Recombinase
Institutions: Max Plank Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden.
Here we report the generation of Tre recombinase through directed, molecular evolution. Tre recombinase recognizes a pre-defined target sequence within the LTR sequences of the HIV-1 provirus, resulting in the excision and eradication of the provirus from infected human cells.
We started with Cre, a 38-kDa recombinase, that recognizes a 34-bp double-stranded DNA sequence known as loxP. Because Cre can effectively eliminate genomic sequences, we set out to tailor a recombinase that could remove the sequence between the 5'-LTR and 3'-LTR of an integrated HIV-1 provirus. As a first step we identified sequences within the LTR sites that were similar to loxP and tested for recombination activity. Initially Cre and mutagenized Cre libraries failed to recombine the chosen loxLTR sites of the HIV-1 provirus. As the start of any directed molecular evolution process requires at least residual activity, the original asymmetric loxLTR sequences were split into subsets and tested again for recombination activity. Acting as intermediates, recombination activity was shown with the subsets. Next, recombinase libraries were enriched through reiterative evolution cycles. Subsequently, enriched libraries were shuffled and recombined. The combination of different mutations proved synergistic and recombinases were created that were able to recombine loxLTR1 and loxLTR2. This was evidence that an evolutionary strategy through intermediates can be successful. After a total of 126 evolution cycles individual recombinases were functionally and structurally analyzed. The most active recombinase -- Tre -- had 19 amino acid changes as compared to Cre. Tre recombinase was able to excise the HIV-1 provirus from the genome HIV-1 infected HeLa cells (see "HIV-1 Proviral DNA Excision Using an Evolved Recombinase", Hauber J., Heinrich-Pette-Institute for Experimental Virology and Immunology, Hamburg, Germany). While still in its infancy, directed molecular evolution will allow the creation of custom enzymes that will serve as tools of "molecular surgery" and molecular medicine.
Cell Biology, Issue 15, HIV-1, Tre recombinase, Site-specific recombination, molecular evolution