New pig brain- a tool to study neonatal brain development and nutrition

It is a well-known fact that scientists test a new drug on its safety and efficacy in animals, typically rodents before commencing clinical trials on humans. Despite as much as they have done for biomedical research, rodents aren’t always the best choice for studies on neonatal brain development and nutrition. But interestingly, pigs shed significant light on this study. Moreover, researchers say that domestic pig would be perfect for these studies as their brain size, rate of development, and digestive system are ideal counterparts for human neonates.

Besides this, there’s been a lot of criticism whether the development of pig brain is the same in a laboratory as it is on any pig farm. Nevertheless, we now have undeniable evidence which supports that the rearing environment does not influence brain development in pigs.

The study

In this study, the team bought 2-day old piglets to their facility, which is equipped with large individual enclosures where the pigs can see, smell, hear, as well as socialize with each other. Another batch of piglets stayed with their littermates and mother in farrowing crates on a research farm. At 4 weeks of age, when the piglets have fully developed enough, the laboratory-reared pigs were moved back to the farm and were housed with sow-reared counterparts. Therefore, these pigs only lived in a different environment for the first four weeks of life and afterward, they were treated alike. All the pigs were anesthetized and the researchers assessed the brains micro and macrostructure of the two subsets using the new pig brain atlas. They found no differences in the absolute volume of the whole brain, grey matter, white matter, CSF growth, and microstructural changes over time in the two subsets. Also, they analyzed the measure of myelin, which indicates the fat and protein surrounding the neurons as these develop notably after birth and there was no significant difference.

Moreover, they also compared the pig’s memory in behavioral tests with the use of a stationary toy. However, the differences were slight and temporary and hence the rearing environment has not influenced brain development in any of the cases. Therefore, using pigs as a model for biomedical research has various potential in different areas of interests, which could ultimately be a boon for both pig and human studies.

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Source: Science Daily

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