New and Exciting in PLoS ONE

There are 69 new articles in PLoS ONE this week. As always, you should rate the articles, post notes and comments and send trackbacks when you blog about the papers. Here are my own picks for the week - you go and look for your own favourites:

Comparison of Pattern Detection Methods in Microarray Time Series of the Segmentation Clock:

While genome-wide gene expression data are generated at an increasing rate, the repertoire of approaches for pattern discovery in these data is still limited. Identifying subtle patterns of interest in large amounts of data (tens of thousands of profiles) associated with a certain level of noise remains a challenge. A microarray time series was recently generated to study the transcriptional program of the mouse segmentation clock, a biological oscillator associated with the periodic formation of the segments of the body axis. A method related to Fourier analysis, the Lomb-Scargle periodogram, was used to detect periodic profiles in the dataset, leading to the identification of a novel set of cyclic genes associated with the segmentation clock. Here, we applied to the same microarray time series dataset four distinct mathematical methods to identify significant patterns in gene expression profiles. These methods are called: Phase consistency, Address reduction, Cyclohedron test and Stable persistence, and are based on different conceptual frameworks that are either hypothesis- or data-driven. Some of the methods, unlike Fourier transforms, are not dependent on the assumption of periodicity of the pattern of interest. Remarkably, these methods identified blindly the expression profiles of known cyclic genes as the most significant patterns in the dataset. Many candidate genes predicted by more than one approach appeared to be true positive cyclic genes and will be of particular interest for future research. In addition, these methods predicted novel candidate cyclic genes that were consistent with previous biological knowledge and experimental validation in mouse embryos. Our results demonstrate the utility of these novel pattern detection strategies, notably for detection of periodic profiles, and suggest that combining several distinct mathematical approaches to analyze microarray datasets is a valuable strategy for identifying genes that exhibit novel, interesting transcriptional patterns.

Response Properties of the Auditory Telencephalon in Songbirds Change with Recent Experience and Season:

The caudomedial nidopallium (NCM) is a telencephalic auditory area that is selectively activated by conspecific vocalizations in zebra finches and canaries. We recently demonstrated that temporal and spectral dynamics of auditory tuning in NCM differ between these species [1]. In order to determine whether these differences reflect recent experience, we exposed separate groups of each species and sex to different housing conditions. Adult birds were housed either in an aviary with conspecifics (NORM), with heterospecifics (canary subjects in a zebra finch aviary, and vice versa: (CROSS)), or in isolation (ISO) for 9 days prior to testing. We then recorded extracellular multi-unit electrophysiological responses to simple pure tone stimuli (250-5000 Hz) in awake birds from each group and analyzed auditory tuning width using methods from our earlier studies. Relative to NORM birds, tuning was narrower in CROSS birds, and wider in ISO birds. The trend was greater in canaries, especially females. The date of recording was also included as a covariate in ANCOVAs that analyzed a larger set of the canary data, including data from birds tested outside of the breeding season, and treated housing condition and sex as independent variables. These tests show that tuning width was narrower early in the year and broader later. This effect was most pronounced in CROSS males. The degree of the short-term neural plasticity described here differs across sexes and species, and may reflect differences in NCM's anatomical and functional organization related to species differences in song characteristics, adult plasticity and/or social factors. More generally, NCM tuning is labile and may be modulated by recent experience to reflect the auditory processing required for behavioral adaptation to the current acoustic, social or seasonal context.

Consumption of Bt Maize Pollen Expressing Cry1Ab or Cry3Bb1 Does Not Harm Adult Green Lacewings, Chrysoperla carnea (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae):

Adults of the common green lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea (Stephens) (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae), are prevalent pollen-consumers in maize fields. They are therefore exposed to insecticidal proteins expressed in the pollen of insect-resistant, genetically engineered maize varieties expressing Cry proteins derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Laboratory experiments were conducted to evaluate the impact of Cry3Bb1 or Cry1Ab-expressing transgenic maize (MON 88017, Event Bt176) pollen on fitness parameters of adult C. carnea. Adults were fed pollen from Bt maize varieties or their corresponding near isolines together with sucrose solution for 28 days. Survival, pre-oviposition period, fecundity, fertility and dry weight were not different between Bt or non-Bt maize pollen treatments. In order to ensure that adults of C. carnea are not sensitive to the tested toxins independent from the plant background and to add certainty to the hazard assessment, adult C. carnea were fed with artificial diet containing purified Cry3Bb1 or Cry1Ab at about a 10 times higher concentration than in maize pollen. Artificial diet containing Galanthus nivalis agglutinin (GNA) was included as a positive control. No differences were found in any life-table parameter between Cry protein containing diet treatments and control diet. However, the pre-oviposition period, daily and total fecundity and dry weight of C. carnea were significantly negatively affected by GNA-feeding. In both feeding assays, the stability and bioactivity of Cry proteins in the food sources as well as the uptake by C. carnea was confirmed. These results show that adults of C. carnea are not affected by Bt maize pollen and are not sensitive to Cry1Ab and Cry3Bb1 at concentrations exceeding the levels in pollen. Consequently, Bt maize pollen consumption will pose a negligible risk to adult C. carnea.

Three-Dimensional Analysis of Vascular Development in the Mouse Embryo:

Key vasculogenic (de-novo vessel forming) and angiogenic (vessel remodelling) events occur in the mouse embryo between embryonic days (E) 8.0 and 10.0 of gestation, during which time the vasculature develops from a simple circulatory loop into a complex, fine structured, three-dimensional organ. Interpretation of vascular phenotypes exhibited by signalling pathway mutants has historically been hindered by an inability to comprehensively image the normal sequence of events that shape the basic architecture of the early mouse vascular system. We have employed Optical Projection Tomography (OPT) using frequency distance relationship (FDR)-based deconvolution to image embryos immunostained with the endothelial specific marker PECAM-1 to create a high resolution, three-dimensional atlas of mouse vascular development between E8.0 and E10.0 (5 to 30 somites). Analysis of the atlas has provided significant new information regarding normal development of intersomitic vessels, the perineural vascular plexus, the cephalic plexus and vessels connecting the embryonic and extraembryonic circulation. We describe examples of vascular remodelling that provide new insight into the mechanisms of sprouting angiogenesis, vascular guidance cues and artery/vein identity that directly relate to phenotypes observed in mouse mutants affecting vascular development between E8.0 and E10.0. This atlas is freely available at and will serve as a platform to provide insight into normal and abnormal vascular development.

Characterization of a Nonclassical Class I MHC Gene in a Reptile, the Galápagos Marine Iguana (Amblyrhynchus cristatus):

Squamates are a diverse order of vertebrates, representing more than 7,000 species. Yet, descriptions of full-length major histocompatibility complex (MHC) genes in this group are nearly absent from the literature, while the number of MHC studies continues to rise in other vertebrate taxa. The lack of basic information about MHC organization in squamates inhibits investigation into the relationship between MHC polymorphism and disease, and leaves a large taxonomic gap in our understanding of amniote MHC evolution. Here, we use both cDNA and genomic sequence data to characterize a class I MHC gene (Amcr-UA) from the Galápagos marine iguana, a member of the squamate subfamily Iguaninae. Amcr-UA appears to be functional since it is expressed in the blood and contains many of the conserved peptide-binding residues that are found in classical class I genes of other vertebrates. In addition, comparison of Amcr-UA to homologous sequences from other iguanine species shows that the antigen-binding portion of this gene is under purifying selection, rather than balancing selection, and therefore may have a conserved function. A striking feature of Amcr-UA is that both the cDNA and genomic sequences lack the transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains that are necessary to anchor the class I receptor molecule into the cell membrane, suggesting that the product of this gene is secreted and consequently not involved in classical class I antigen-presentation. The truncated and conserved character of Amcr-UA lead us to define it as a nonclassical gene that is related to the few available squamate class I sequences. However, phylogenetic analysis placed Amcr-UA in a basal position relative to other published classical MHC genes from squamates, suggesting that this gene diverged near the beginning of squamate diversification.


Ubiquitous Crossmodal Stochastic Resonance in Humans: Auditory Noise Facilitates Tactile, Visual and Proprioceptive Sensations:

Stochastic resonance is a nonlinear phenomenon whereby the addition of noise can improve the detection of weak stimuli. An optimal amount of added noise results in the maximum enhancement, whereas further increases in noise intensity only degrade detection or information content. The phenomenon does not occur in linear systems, where the addition of noise to either the system or the stimulus only degrades the signal quality. Stochastic Resonance (SR) has been extensively studied in different physical systems. It has been extended to human sensory systems where it can be classified as unimodal, central, behavioral and recently crossmodal. However what has not been explored is the extension of this crossmodal SR in humans. For instance, if under the same auditory noise conditions the crossmodal SR persists among different sensory systems. Using physiological and psychophysical techniques we demonstrate that the same auditory noise can enhance the sensitivity of tactile, visual and propioceptive system responses to weak signals. Specifically, we show that the effective auditory noise significantly increased tactile sensations of the finger, decreased luminance and contrast visual thresholds and significantly changed EMG recordings of the leg muscles during posture maintenance. We conclude that crossmodal SR is a ubiquitous phenomenon in humans that can be interpreted within an energy and frequency model of multisensory neurons spontaneous activity. Initially the energy and frequency content of the multisensory neurons' activity (supplied by the weak signals) is not enough to be detected but when the auditory noise enters the brain, it generates a general activation among multisensory neurons of different regions, modifying their original activity. The result is an integrated activation that promotes sensitivity transitions and the signals are then perceived. A physiologically plausible model for crossmodal stochastic resonance is presented.

Perceiving What Is Reachable Depends on Motor Representations: Evidence from a Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Study:

Visually determining what is reachable in peripersonal space requires information about the egocentric location of objects but also information about the possibilities of action with the body, which are context dependent. The aim of the present study was to test the role of motor representations in the visual perception of peripersonal space. Seven healthy participants underwent a TMS study while performing a right-left decision (control) task or perceptually judging whether a visual target was reachable or not with their right hand. An actual grasping movement task was also included. Single pulse TMS was delivered 80% of the trials on the left motor and premotor cortex and on a control site (the temporo-occipital area), at 90% of the resting motor threshold and at different SOA conditions (50ms, 100ms, 200ms or 300ms). Results showed a facilitation effect of the TMS on reaction times in all tasks, whatever the site stimulated and until 200ms after stimulus presentation. However, the facilitation effect was on average 34ms lower when stimulating the motor cortex in the perceptual judgement task, especially for stimuli located at the boundary of peripersonal space. This study provides the first evidence that brain motor area participate in the visual determination of what is reachable. We discuss how motor representations may feed the perceptual system with information about possible interactions with nearby objects and thus may contribute to the perception of the boundary of peripersonal space.

The Continuous Wagon Wheel Illusion and the 'When' Pathway of the Right Parietal Lobe: A Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation Study:

A continuous periodic motion stimulus can sometimes be perceived moving in the wrong direction. These illusory reversals have been taken as evidence that part of the motion perception system samples its inputs as a series of discrete snapshots -although other explanations of the phenomenon have been proposed, that rely on the spurious activation of low-level motion detectors in early visual areas. We have hypothesized that the right inferior parietal lobe ('when' pathway) plays a critical role in timing perceptual events relative to one another, and thus we examined the role of the right parietal lobe in the generation of this "continuous Wagon Wheel Illusion" (c-WWI). Consistent with our hypothesis, we found that the illusion was effectively weakened following disruption of right, but not left, parietal regions by low frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (1 Hz, 10 min). These results were independent of whether the motion stimulus was shown in the left or the right visual field. Thus, the c-WWI appears to depend on higher-order attentional mechanisms that are supported by the 'when' pathway of the right parietal lobe.

Complex Ecological Dynamics and Eradicability of the Vector Borne Macroparasitic Disease, Lymphatic Filariasis:

The current global efforts to control the morbidity and mortality caused by infectious diseases affecting developing countries--such as HIV/AIDS, polio, tuberculosis, malaria and the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs)--have led to an increasing focus on the biological controllability or eradicability of disease transmission by management action. Here, we use an age-structured dynamical model of lymphatic filariasis transmission to show how a quantitative understanding of the dynamic processes underlying infection persistence and extinction is key to evaluating the eradicability of this macroparasitic disease. We investigated the persistence and extinction dynamics of lymphatic filariasis by undertaking a numerical equilibrium analysis of a deterministic model of parasite transmission, based on varying values of the initial L3 larval density in the system. The results highlighted the likely occurrence of complex dynamics in parasite transmission with three major outcomes for the eradicability of filariasis. First, both vector biting and worm breakpoint thresholds are shown to be complex dynamic entities with values dependent on the nature and magnitude of vector-and host specific density-dependent processes and the degree of host infection aggregation prevailing in endemic communities. Second, these thresholds as well as the potential size of the attractor domains and hence system resilience are strongly dependent on peculiarities of infection dynamics in different vector species. Finally, the existence of multiple stable states indicates the presence of hysteresis nonlinearity in the filariasis system dynamics in which infection thresholds for infection invasion are lower but occur at higher biting rates than do the corresponding thresholds for parasite elimination. The variable dynamic nature of thresholds and parasite system resilience reflecting both initial conditions and vector species-infection specificities, and the existence of hysteresis loop phenomenon, suggests that eradication of filariasis may require taking a more flexible and locally relevant approach to designing elimination programmes compared to the current command and control approach advocated by the global programme.

Neuromagnetic Evidence for Early Auditory Restoration of Fundamental Pitch:

Understanding the time course of how listeners reconstruct a missing fundamental component in an auditory stimulus remains elusive. We report MEG evidence that the missing fundamental component of a complex auditory stimulus is recovered in auditory cortex within 100 ms post stimulus onset. Two outside tones of four-tone complex stimuli were held constant (1200 Hz and 2400 Hz), while two inside tones were systematically modulated (between 1300 Hz and 2300 Hz), such that the restored fundamental (also knows as "virtual pitch") changed from 100 Hz to 600 Hz. Constructing the auditory stimuli in this manner controls for a number of spectral properties known to modulate the neuromagnetic signal. The tone complex stimuli only diverged on the value of the missing fundamental component. We compared the M100 latencies of these tone complexes to the M100 latencies elicited by their respective pure tone (spectral pitch) counterparts. The M100 latencies for the tone complexes matched their pure sinusoid counterparts, while also replicating the M100 temporal latency response curve found in previous studies. Our findings suggest that listeners are reconstructing the inferred pitch by roughly 100 ms after stimulus onset and are consistent with previous electrophysiological research suggesting that the inferential pitch is perceived in early auditory cortex.

Eye Movements Predict Recollective Experience:

Previously encountered stimuli can bring to mind a vivid memory of the episodic context in which the stimulus was first experienced ("remembered" stimuli), or can simply seem familiar ("known" stimuli). Past studies suggest that more attentional resources are required to encode stimuli that are subsequently remembered than known. However, it is unclear if the attentional resources are distributed differently during encoding and recognition of remembered and known stimuli. Here, we record eye movements while participants encode photos, and later while indicating whether the photos are remembered, known or new. Eye fixations were more clustered during both encoding and recognition of remembered photos relative to known photos. Thus, recognition of photos that bring to mind a vivid memory for the episodic context in which they were experienced is associated with less distributed overt attention during encoding and recognition. The results suggest that remembering is related to encoding of a few distinct details of a photo rather than the photo as a whole. In turn, during recognition remembering may be trigged by enhanced memory for the salient details of the photos.

The Yeast Spore Wall Enables Spores to Survive Passage through the Digestive Tract of Drosophila:

In nature, yeasts are subject to predation by flies of the genus Drosophila. In response to nutritional starvation Saccharomyces cerevisiae differentiates into a dormant cell type, termed a spore, which is resistant to many types of environmental stress. The stress resistance of the spore is due primarily to a spore wall that is more elaborate than the vegetative cell wall. We report here that S. cerevisiae spores survive passage through the gut of Drosophila melanogaster. Constituents of the spore wall that distinguish it from the vegetative cell wall are necessary for this resistance. Ascospores of the distantly related yeast Schizosaccharomyces pombe also display resistance to digestion by D. melanogaster. These results suggest that the primary function of the yeast ascospore is as a cell type specialized for dispersion by insect vectors.

Mere Expectation to Move Causes Attenuation of Sensory Signals:

When a part of the body moves, the sensation evoked by a probe stimulus to that body part is attenuated. Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain this robust and general effect. First, feedforward motor signals may modulate activity evoked by incoming sensory signals. Second, reafferent sensation from body movements may mask the stimulus. Here we delivered probe stimuli to the right index finger just before a cue which instructed subjects to make left or right index finger movements. When left and right cues were equiprobable, we found attenuation for stimuli to the right index finger just before this finger was cued (and subsequently moved). However, there was no attenuation in the right finger just before the left finger was cued. This result suggests that the movement made in response to the cue caused 'postdictive' attenuation of a sensation occurring prior to the cue. In a second experiment, the right cue was more frequent than the left. We now found attenuation in the right index finger even when the left finger was cued and moved. This attenuation linked to a movement that was likely but did not in fact occur, suggests a new expectation-based mechanism, distinct from both feedforward motor signals and postdiction. Our results suggest a new mechanism in motor-sensory interactions in which the motor system tunes the sensory inputs based on expectations about future possible actions that may not, in fact, be implemented.


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