Archive for the ‘PLoS Computational Biology’ Category

Pupil-Linked Arousal Determines Variability in Perceptual Decision Making

September 22, 2014 Comments off

Pupil-Linked Arousal Determines Variability in Perceptual Decision Making
Source: PLoS Computational Biology

Decision making between several alternatives is thought to involve the gradual accumulation of evidence in favor of each available choice. This process is profoundly variable even for nominally identical stimuli, yet the neuro-cognitive substrates that determine the magnitude of this variability are poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that arousal state is a powerful determinant of variability in perceptual decision making. We measured pupil size, a highly sensitive index of arousal, while human subjects performed a motion-discrimination task, and decomposed task behavior into latent decision making parameters using an established computational model of the decision process. In direct contrast to previous theoretical accounts specifying a role for arousal in several discrete aspects of decision making, we found that pupil diameter was uniquely related to a model parameter representing variability in the rate of decision evidence accumulation: Periods of increased pupil size, reflecting heightened arousal, were characterized by greater variability in accumulation rate. Pupil diameter also correlated trial-by-trial with specific patterns of behavior that collectively are diagnostic of changing accumulation rate variability, and explained substantial individual differences in this computational quantity. These findings provide a uniquely clear account of how arousal state impacts decision making, and may point to a relationship between pupil-linked neuromodulation and behavioral variability. They also pave the way for future studies aimed at augmenting the precision with which people make decisions.

See: Pupil size shows reliability of decisions (EurekAlert!)

Optimal Schedules of Light Exposure for Rapidly Correcting Circadian Misalignment

April 18, 2014 Comments off

Optimal Schedules of Light Exposure for Rapidly Correcting Circadian Misalignment
Source: PLoS Computational Biology

Jet lag arises from a misalignment of circadian biological timing with the timing of human activity, and is caused by rapid transmeridian travel. Jet lag’s symptoms, such as depressed cognitive alertness, also arise from work and social schedules misaligned with the timing of the circadian clock. Using experimentally validated mathematical models, we develop a new methodology to find mathematically optimal schedules of light exposure and avoidance for rapidly re-entraining the human circadian system. In simulations, our schedules are found to significantly outperform other recently proposed schedules. Moreover, our schedules appear to be significantly more robust to both noise in light and to inter-individual variations in endogenous circadian period than other proposed schedules. By comparing the optimal schedules for thousands of different situations, and by using general mathematical arguments, we are also able to translate our findings into general principles of optimal circadian re-entrainment. These principles include: 1) a class of schedules where circadian amplitude is only slightly perturbed, optimal for dim light and for small shifts 2) another class of schedules where shifting occurs along the shortest path in phase-space, optimal for bright light and for large shifts 3) the determination that short light pulses are less effective than sustained light if the goal is to re-entrain quickly, and 4) the determination that length of daytime should be significantly shorter when delaying the clock than when advancing it.

See: Using mathematics to beat jetlag effectively (Science Daily)

Environmental and State-Level Regulatory Factors Affect the Incidence of Autism and Intellectual Disability

March 26, 2014 Comments off

Environmental and State-Level Regulatory Factors Affect the Incidence of Autism and Intellectual Disability
Source: PLoS Computational Biology

Many factors affect the risks for neurodevelopmental maladies such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and intellectual disability (ID). To compare environmental, phenotypic, socioeconomic and state-policy factors in a unified geospatial framework, we analyzed the spatial incidence patterns of ASD and ID using an insurance claims dataset covering nearly one third of the US population. Following epidemiologic evidence, we used the rate of congenital malformations of the reproductive system as a surrogate for environmental exposure of parents to unmeasured developmental risk factors, including toxins. Adjusted for gender, ethnic, socioeconomic, and geopolitical factors, the ASD incidence rates were strongly linked to population-normalized rates of congenital malformations of the reproductive system in males (an increase in ASD incidence by 283% for every percent increase in incidence of malformations, 95% CI: [91%, 576%], p<6×10−5). Such congenital malformations were barely significant for ID (94% increase, 95% CI: [1%, 250%], p = 0.0384). Other congenital malformations in males (excluding those affecting the reproductive system) appeared to significantly affect both phenotypes: 31.8% ASD rate increase (CI: [12%, 52%], p<6×10−5), and 43% ID rate increase (CI: [23%, 67%], p<6×10−5). Furthermore, the state-mandated rigor of diagnosis of ASD by a pediatrician or clinician for consideration in the special education system was predictive of a considerable decrease in ASD and ID incidence rates (98.6%, CI: [28%, 99.99%], p = 0.02475 and 99% CI: [68%, 99.99%], p = 0.00637 respectively). Thus, the observed spatial variability of both ID and ASD rates is associated with environmental and state-level regulatory factors; the magnitude of influence of compound environmental predictors was approximately three times greater than that of state-level incentives. The estimated county-level random effects exhibited marked spatial clustering, strongly indicating existence of as yet unidentified localized factors driving apparent disease incidence. Finally, we found that the rates of ASD and ID at the county level were weakly but significantly correlated (Pearson product-moment correlation 0.0589, p = 0.00101), while for females the correlation was much stronger (0.197, p<2.26×10−16).

See: Autism, intellectual disability incidence linked with environmental factors (Science Daily)

Identifying Transmission Cycles at the Human-Animal Interface: The Role of Animal Reservoirs in Maintaining Gambiense Human African Trypanosomiasis

January 18, 2013 Comments off

Identifying Transmission Cycles at the Human-Animal Interface: The Role of Animal Reservoirs in Maintaining Gambiense Human African Trypanosomiasis
Source: PLoS Computational Biology

Many infections can be transmitted between animals and humans. The epidemiological roles of different species can vary from important reservoirs to dead-end hosts. Here, we present a method to identify transmission cycles in different combinations of species from field data. We used this method to synthesise epidemiological and ecological data from Bipindi, Cameroon, a historical focus of gambiense Human African Trypanosomiasis (HAT, sleeping sickness), a disease that has often been considered to be maintained mainly by humans. We estimated the basic reproduction number of gambiense HAT in Bipindi and evaluated the potential for transmission in the absence of human cases. We found that under the assumption of random mixing between vectors and hosts, gambiense HAT could not be maintained in this focus without the contribution of animals. This result remains robust under extensive sensitivity analysis. When using the distributions of species among habitats to estimate the amount of mixing between those species, we found indications for an independent transmission cycle in wild animals. Stochastic simulation of the system confirmed that unless vectors moved between species very rarely, reintroduction would usually occur shortly after elimination of the infection from human populations. This suggests that elimination strategies may have to be reconsidered as targeting human cases alone would be insufficient for control, and reintroduction from animal reservoirs would remain a threat. Our approach is broadly applicable and could reveal animal reservoirs critical to the control of other infectious diseases.

See: Wild Animals May Contribute to the Resurgence of African Sleeping Sickness (Science Daily)


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