For the first time, researchers at the University of Georgia's Resuscitation Center for Life Sciences have used an imaging method normally intended for humans to analyze brain activity in live agricultural swine models and have discovered that pig brains are even better platforms than human neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
An immediate potential application is in the study and diagnosis of CTE, a progressive brain disease caused by a series of blunt injuries commonly seen in military veterans and NFL footballers. Currently, CTE can only be diagnosed by autopsy. The new study strongly suggests that a swine model for mapping functional connectivity of the brain is a promising approach to determining biomarkers or brain signatures leading to CTE. Using this type of data, doctors will have the opportunity to diagnose CTE while a veteran or athlete is still alive.
Using functional functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI), the researchers demonstrated functional connectivity in the sensory regions of the brain of the pigs that are parallel to those of the human brain. These areas include those where all our perceptions, feelings, movements and memories are coded. The similarities of these functional networks, as published in the magazine Brain connectivity, set the stage for targeted clinical applications in the treatment and prevention of neurological disorders.
Franklin West, an associate professor of animal and dairy science at the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and RBC partner Qun Zhao, drew comparisons between the sensory and cognitive significance found in pigs and those previously established in humans.
Most of the models to date have structural comparisons. Our model surpasses brain mass and allows us to address questions about brain function and memory. Without a functional brain map, it's hard to tell which parts of the brain are talking to each other. "
Qun Zhao, Associate Professor of Physics at Franklin College of Arts and Sciences
Previous studies have shown that the shape and exact location of the brain regions strongly interact with the modeling of brain connectivity. For years, researchers have assumed that the shape and size of a pig brain has normal and anatomical similarities with the human brain and therefore pigs are considered a good animal model for neurological diseases. However, according to the RBC team, scientists have not yet developed a unique model to capture functional connectivity or to detail the brain wiring diagram.
Neuroimaging usually helps researchers identify which areas of the brain are triggered when a person performs a task. such as the simple task of starting a car. To activate your car, you must first look, find, where to enter the key, as your brain gets visual indications and stimulates different parts of your hand to complete the action. Each part of your arm activates a different part of the brain by inserting the key. If there is a break in the connections, these functions do not happen.
These intermittent connections play a role in neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and autism. With any of these disorders, RBC collaborators can now model a 360 degree view in which parts of the brain no longer talk to each other, and the centers in the brain are reactivated and reconnected.
"What this new model permits and has never been before," said the West, "is that researchers ask for more specific questions about how the brain speaks of itself, operates and coordinates action."
"What we have the tendency to say is that the brain is a black box and we do not know how it works," West said. "This study is a change game. It gives us a light shining inside the box."
Zhao, Q. et al. (2019) Swine brains have homogeneous, comfortable human-brain networks. Brain connectivity. c.