Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Piglets open doors to study infant brain development

29.06.2010
Events occurring during the development of an infant's brain can leave behind fingerprints. And researchers at the University of Illinois are interested in learning how these fingerprints can predict future behavioral problems such as cognitive deficits, anxiety disorders, depression, and even autism. New U of I research shows that the baby pig may provide some answers.

Researchers discovered that neonatal piglets are capable of being trained in traditional learning and memory tests. As a result, these piglets can provide critical information that could directly benefit human health.

"Studies suggest that inadequate nutrition, stress, and infection leave fingerprints in early brain development that can make a person more vulnerable to behavior disorders later in life," said Rodney Johnson, U of I professor of animal sciences and director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences. "We are interested in learning how the brain develops during this time and how cognitive ability is affected. Our goal is to understand how to promote optimum brain and cognitive development, and minimize potential experiential influences that might hinder the process."

The use of the pig in neuroscience research is gaining popularity because pigs are anatomically similar to humans and many of their organ systems grow and develop similarly as well. Pigs are also precocial, meaning they are born with well-developed sensory and motor systems. This allows them to be very mobile and weaned at an early age.

"Most important, the pig brain's growth spurt occurs perinatally – a little before and a little after birth," Johnson said. "In contrast, the rodent's brain growth spurt occurs after birth and the non-human primate's occurs before birth, making them less ideal to study and compare to humans."

The brain's rapid growth spurt is a critical period of time, Johnson said.

"We know that if something goes wrong during this developmental period, the brain can be permanently altered," he said. "We believe that events occurring during this developmental period may underlie some of the behavioral problems that emerge later in life."

In the study, piglets were weaned from their mothers at 2 days of age and set up with a milk system that delivered 14 small meals a day – mimicking the number of meals they'd receive from their mother.

At two weeks of age, piglets were trained to locate a milk reward in an 8-arm radial maze, a large version of models typically used to study rodent behavior. The eight arms of the maze were equipped with a cup exactly like the cup piglets fed from during the day. Seven of the bowls contained inaccessible milk and one bowl contained milk that was accessible. The goal was to teach the piglets how to find the accessible bowl of milk.

Piglets can't utilize extra-maze cues (such as a picture on a wall) like mice do because pigs tend to keep their nose to the floor. In order to create cues, researchers covered the opening of each maze arm with a blue or white curtain. The piglets learned color cues to remember where to find milk. In the first test, the blue curtain contained the bowl with milk.

"The piglets learned quickly after day one where to find their reward," Johnson said. "This simple associative learning task was not hard for them to complete.

"But then, we did a reversal learning test where the white curtain became the entrance to the cup of accessible milk. This was more complicated because the piglets had to learn to stop going to the blue and then associate white with milk. It required a greater cognitive load, but it was one that they learned over time."

Researchers also investigated how peripheral immune activation affects cognitive processing. One group of piglets received an immunostimulant to mimic a common viral infection. These pigs experienced cognitive deficits, requiring more time to complete the reversal learning test.

"When the immune system encounters an infectious agent, it responds and conveys information to the brain," he said. "We were able to show that when the peripheral immune system conveyed information to the brain in the neonate, their cognitive abilities were hindered. That reveals another advantage of the neonatal piglet model."

The viral mimetic also increased pro-inflammatory cytokines in the hippocampus, a brain area involved in certain types of learning and memory. Pro-inflammatory cytokines in the hippocampus inhibit memory consolidation, making it more difficult to learn, Johnson added.

The Johnson lab is currently using MRI imaging to study brain development in piglets from two weeks of age until the piglets reach sexual maturity or an adolescent stage.

Results of this research project, "Behavioral assessment of cognitive function using a translational neonatal piglet model," were published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. Researchers included Rodney Johnson and Ryan Dilger, both of the University of Illinois.

Jennifer Shike | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.illinois.edu

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Faba fix for corn's nitrogen need
11.04.2018 | American Society of Agronomy

nachricht Wheat research discovery yields genetic secrets that could shape future crops
09.04.2018 | John Innes Centre

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Spider silk key to new bone-fixing composite

University of Connecticut researchers have created a biodegradable composite made of silk fibers that can be used to repair broken load-bearing bones without the complications sometimes presented by other materials.

Repairing major load-bearing bones such as those in the leg can be a long and uncomfortable process.

Im Focus: Writing and deleting magnets with lasers

Study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces is the outcome of an international effort that included teams from Dresden and Berlin in Germany, and the US.

Scientists at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) together with colleagues from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and the University of Virginia...

Im Focus: Gamma-ray flashes from plasma filaments

Novel highly efficient and brilliant gamma-ray source: Based on model calculations, physicists of the Max PIanck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg propose a novel method for an efficient high-brilliance gamma-ray source. A giant collimated gamma-ray pulse is generated from the interaction of a dense ultra-relativistic electron beam with a thin solid conductor. Energetic gamma-rays are copiously produced as the electron beam splits into filaments while propagating across the conductor. The resulting gamma-ray energy and flux enable novel experiments in nuclear and fundamental physics.

The typical wavelength of light interacting with an object of the microcosm scales with the size of this object. For atoms, this ranges from visible light to...

Im Focus: Basel researchers succeed in cultivating cartilage from stem cells

Stable joint cartilage can be produced from adult stem cells originating from bone marrow. This is made possible by inducing specific molecular processes occurring during embryonic cartilage formation, as researchers from the University and University Hospital of Basel report in the scientific journal PNAS.

Certain mesenchymal stem/stromal cells from the bone marrow of adults are considered extremely promising for skeletal tissue regeneration. These adult stem...

Im Focus: Like a wedge in a hinge

Researchers lay groundwork to tailor drugs for new targets in cancer therapy

In the fight against cancer, scientists are developing new drugs to hit tumor cells at so far unused weak points. Such a “sore spot” is the protein complex...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Invitation to the upcoming "Current Topics in Bioinformatics: Big Data in Genomics and Medicine"

13.04.2018 | Event News

Unique scope of UV LED technologies and applications presented in Berlin: ICULTA-2018

12.04.2018 | Event News

IWOLIA: A conference bringing together German Industrie 4.0 and French Industrie du Futur

09.04.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Magnetic nano-imaging on a table top

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Start of work for the world's largest electric truck

20.04.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research

Atoms may hum a tune from grand cosmic symphony

20.04.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>