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Piglets open doors to study infant brain development
Date:6/28/2010

URBANA 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 development
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Contact: Jennifer Shike
jshike@illinois.edu
217-244-0888
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Source:Eurekalert

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