Discovery Park Undergraduate Research Internship Program

"Development of Eye-Tracking Technology for Behavior Assessment of the Mouse Model of Fragile X Syndrome"

About the Project

Project Time & Type:
Summer 2015 - DURI
Research area(s):
Neuroscience, Psychology
Project Description:
Fragile X is the most common known genetic cause of autism, affecting an estimated 1 in 2,500-5,000 men and 1 in 4,000-6,000 women (Bagni, Tassone et al. 2012). The disorder results from transcriptional silencing of the FMR1 gene, commonly due to CGG trinucleotide expansion in the 5’UTR(Myrick, Nakamoto-Kinoshita et al. 2014). The FMR1 gene product FMRP (Fragile X Mental Retardation Protein) serves as a translational inhibitor of proteins downstream of group 1 metabotropic glutamate receptor (mGluR’s) signaling pathways (Bhakar, Dolen et al. 2012). Loss of this translational regulation by FMRP has significant consequences for activity-dependent synaptic plasticity in the brain, including enhanced long term depression (LTD) of synaptic responses induced by mGluR activation (Bear, Huber et al. 2004). As measured by eye tracking and object discrimination tasks, patients with Fragile X experience a coarseness of visual-temporal perception (Farzin, Rivera et al. 2011, Farzin, Scaggs et al. 2011) and demonstrate attentional deficits (Munir, Cornish et al. 2000). However, the mechanisms underlying these impairments are not known. We seek an understanding of how changes in synaptic plasticity in Fragile X lead to impairments of visual-temporal perception and attention. Using a mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome, we propose a series of experiments combining visual stimulation with novel behavioral outputs. We will develop a new technology allowing for simultaneous eye tracking and on-line measurement of the size and the coordinates of the pupil in a head-fixed behaving mouse. Using an infrared camera, we will apply this technology for mouse eye imaging during visual stimulus presentation. To control image acquisition and pupil tracking, we will use python (a free open-source programming language) with OpenCV (a free open-source computer vision library). This will allow us to make the software developed during this project freely available and distributable among the broader autism research community. Following software development, we will perform systematic measurements of pupil dynamics and size changes during different patterns of visual stimulation in control and Fragile X mutant mice. A similar paradigm will be developed and used with typically developing children and children with ASD. This experimental paradigm will allow us to test visual acuity and attention in the mouse model of Fragile X, providing a platform for understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying atypical attention and perception individuals with Fragile X and ASD.
Expected Student Contributions:
The intern will be performing behavior experiments with mice.
Related Website(s):
Desired Qualifications:
Estimated Weekly Hours:
Department awards independent research credits for this project?
Yes, 4 credit hours

Professor in Charge

Chubykin, Alexander
Biological Sciences

Student Supervisor

Alexander Chubykin
Assistant Professor

Cooperating Faculty

Brandon Keehn
Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Scienc