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Finding Parallels between Human and Pig Brains Using Resting-State Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging

July 1, 2019

Dr. Qun Zhao's research group along with animal/dairy scientist Dr. Franklin West discovered that pig brains are even better platforms than previously thought for the study of human neurological conditions.

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Franklin West and Qun Zhao

Collaborating in the University of Georgia's Regenerative Bioscience Center (RBC) using an imaging method normally reserved for humans to analyze brain activity in live agricultural swine models, Dr. Qun Zhao and Dr. Franklin West discovered that pig brains are even better platforms than previously thought for the study of human neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

By using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI), the researchers demonstrated functional connectivity in sensorimotor regions of the swine brain that parallels to that of the human brain. These regions include those where all our perceptions, feelings, movements and memories are encoded. The similarities of these functional networks, as published in the journal Brain Connectivity, set the stage for targeted clinical applications in the treatment and prevention of neurological disorders.

Franklin West, associate professor of animal and dairy science in College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and his RBC collaborator, Qun Zhao, drew comparisons between sensory and cognitive relevance found in swine and those previously established in humans.

"Most of the models to-date deal with structural comparisons," said Zhao, associate professor of physics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "Our model goes beyond brain mass and allows us to address questions related to brain connectivity and memory function. Without a functional map of the brain it’s hard to tell what parts of the brain are talking to each other."

"What this new model allows and has never been done before," West said, "is for researchers to ask more refined questions about how the brain talks to itself, functions and coordinates action."

"What we tend to say is the brain is a black box and we don’t know how it works," said West. "This study is a game changer. It gives us a light to shine inside the box."

In addition to those listed above, the study’s co-authors include Gregory Simchick and Alice Shen, both from the MRI physics lab, led by Zhao.

The study, "Pig Brains Have Homologous Resting State Networks with Human Brains," is available online at https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/brain.2019.0673

Read the full story, "Pigs help scientists understand human brain" by Charlene Betourney on UGA News.

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