Johnson and Dilger said that the goal is to develop a tool for pigs that is equivalent to what is available for the mouse brain and make it publicly available. But they don't want to stop with tool development.
"We want to use this to address important questions," Johnson said.
One research direction being pursued in Johnson's lab is to induce viral pneumonia in piglets at the point in the post-natal period when the brain is undergoing massive growth to see how it alters brain growth and development. They are also looking at effects of prenatal infections in the mother to see if that alters the trajectory of normal brain growth in the offspring. The risk for behavioral disorders and reduced stress resilience is increased by pre- and post-natal infection, but the developmental origins are poorly understood.
Dilger's group is interested in the effects of early-life nutrition on the brain. They are looking at the effects of specific fatty acids as primary structural components of the human brain and cerebral cortex, and at choline, a nutrient that is important for DNA production and normal functioning of neurons.
"Choline deficiency has been tied to cognitive deficits in the mouse and human, and we're developing a pig model to study the direct effects choline deficiency has on brain structure and function," Dilger said. "Many women of child-bearing age may not be receiving enough choline in their diets, and recent evidence suggests this may ultimately affect learning and memory ability in their children. Luckily, choline can be found in common foods, especially eggs and meat products, including bacon."
|Contact: Susan Jongeneel|
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences