Comparison of brain development in sow-reared and artificially reared piglets

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Introduction: Provision of adequate nutrients is critical for proper growth and development of the neonate, yet the impact of breastfeeding versus formula feeding on neural maturation has to be fully determined. Using the piglet as a model for the human infant, our objective was to compare neurodevelopment of piglets that were either sow-reared (SR) or artificially reared (AR) in an artificial setting. Methods: Over a 25-day feeding study, piglets (1.5 ± 0.2 kg initial bodyweight) were either SR (n = 10) with ad libitum intake or AR (n = 29) receiving an infant formula modified to mimic the nutritional profile and intake pattern of sow's milk. At study conclusion, piglets were subjected to a standardized set of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures to quantify structure and composition of the brain. Results: Diffusion tensor imaging, an MRI sequence that characterizes brain microstructure, revealed that SR piglets had greater (P < 0.05) average white matter (WM) (generated from a piglet specific brain atlas) fractional anisotropy (FA), and lower (P < 0.05) mean and radial and axial diffusivity values compared with AR piglets, suggesting differences in WM organization. Voxel-based morphometric analysis, a measure of white and gray matter (GM) volumes concentrations, revealed differences (P < 0.05) in bilateral development of GM clusters in the cortical brain regions of the AR piglets compared with SR piglets. Region of interest analysis revealed larger (P < 0.05) whole brain volumes in SR animals compared with AR, and certain subcortical regions to be larger (P < 0.05) as a percentage of whole brain volume in AR piglets compared with SR animals. Quantification of brain metabolites using magnetic resonance spectroscopy revealed SR piglets had higher (P < 0.05) concentrations of myo-inositol, glycerophosphocholine + phosphocholine, and creatine + phosphocreatine compared with AR piglets. However, glutamate + glutamine levels were higher (P < 0.05) in AR piglets when compared with SR animals. Conclusion: Overall, increases in brain metabolite concentrations, coupled with greater FA values in WM tracts and volume differences in GM of specific brain regions, suggest differences in myelin development and cell proliferation in SR versus AR piglets.




Jacob, R. M., Mudd, A. T., Alexander, L. S., Lai, C. S., & Dilger, R. N. (2016). Comparison of brain development in sow-reared and artificially reared piglets. Frontiers in Pediatrics, 4(SEP).

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