Ryan Dilger


1207 W. Gregory Dr.
186 Animal Sciences Laboratory
Urbana, IL 61801
Office: 217-333-2006

Lab Page

Ryan Dilger

Associate Professor
Ph.D., 2007, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
M.S., 2004, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Nutrition and brain development

In a broad sense, my research integrates the interdisciplinary fields of nutrition and neuroscience, including the ability of nutrients to impact metabolic, immunologic, and developmental patterns. Appropriate perinatal nutrition is increasingly recognized to play a particularly crucial role in influencing biological outcomes, with many consequences not fully appreciated until long after birth. Evidence from human and rodent studies suggests that rapid postnatal growth makes certain brain regions highly susceptible to external factor-derived detriments, including supply of dietary nutrients, and epigenetic modulation likely contributes to such changes. However, rodent and human brains differ greatly in overall morphology, extent and rate of postnatal growth, and timing during which nutrient provision affects neurodevelopment. Moreover, rodents cannot be reared artificially beginning at birth and are not amenable to functional cognitive assessment prior to adolescence. Thus, there remains a critical need to determine how perinatal nutrient availability contributes to permanent changes in neurodevelopmental patterns using animal models that approximate brain developmental characteristics similar to humans. The long-term goal of my research program is to elucidate the mechanism(s) by which nutrient supply during the perinatal period elicits permanent long-term consequences on metabolic and functional aspects of discrete body tissues. My background includes basic and applied aspects of comparative nutrition and the ability for nutrients to modulate response of the immune system and bio-behaviors associated with specific brain regions. My current interests include the development and use of a translational pig model that assesses composition, structure and function of the pig brain longitudinally from birth to adolescence and will provide human-relevant information. The domestic pig, due to its anatomic and physiologic similarities to humans, is a well-established preclinical model in cardiovascular, metabolic, and pediatric nutrition research and recently, use of the pig as a model for neurodevelopment research has increased. My research combines delivery of specific nutrient profiles to mature pigs and their progeny, with techniques to assess brain development (e.g., magnetic resonance imaging) and functional aspects of cognition (e.g., behavioral assays of learning and memory).

Research Areas

Representative Publications

Mudd AT, Alexander LS, Berding K, Waworuntu RV, Berg BM, Donovan SM and Dilger RN (2016). Dietary prebiotics, milk fat globule membrane and lactoferrin affects structural neurodevelopment in the young piglet. Front. Pediatr. 4:4. doi: 10.3389/fped.2016.00004

Getty CM, Almeida FN, Baratta AA, Dilger RN. Plasma metabolomics indicates metabolic perturbations in low birth weight piglets supplemented with arginine. J Anim Sci. 2015 Dec;93(12):5754-63. doi: 10.2527/jas.2015-9293. PubMed PMID: 26641185.

Mudd AT, Getty CM, Sutton BP, Dilger RN. Perinatal choline deficiency delays brain development and alters metabolite concentrations in the young pig. Nutr Neurosci. 2015 Jun 5. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 26046479.

Getty CM, Dilger RN. Moderate Perinatal Choline Deficiency Elicits Altered Physiology and Metabolomic Profiles in the Piglet. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 21;10(7):e0133500. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133500. eCollection 2015. PubMed PMID: 26196148; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4510435.

Liu H, Radlowski EC, Conrad MS, Li Y, Dilger RN, Johnson RW. Early supplementation of phospholipids and gangliosides affects brain and cognitive development in neonatal piglets. J Nutr. 2014 Dec;144(12):1903-9. doi:10.3945/jn.114.199828.

Conrad MS, Sutton BP, Dilger RN, Johnson RW. An in vivo three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging-based averaged brain collection of the neonatal piglet (Sus scrofa). PLoS One. 2014 Sep 25;9(9):e107650. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107650.

Radlowski EC, Conrad MS, Lezmi S, Dilger RN, Sutton B, Larsen R, Johnson RW. A neonatal piglet model for investigating brain and cognitive development in small for gestational age human infants. PLoS One. 2014 Mar 17;9(3):e91951. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091951.

Rytych JL, Elmore MR, Burton MD, Conrad MS, Donovan SM, Dilger RN, Johnson RW. Early life iron deficiency impairs spatial cognition in neonatal piglets. J Nutr. 2012 Nov;142(11):2050-6. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.165522.

Elmore MR, Dilger RN, Johnson RW. Place and direction learning in a spatial T-maze task by neonatal piglets. Anim Cogn. 2012 Jul;15(4):667-76. doi:10.1007/s10071-012-0495-9.

Conrad MS, Dilger RN, Nickolls A, Johnson RW. Magnetic resonance imaging of the neonatal piglet brain. Pediatr Res. 2012 Feb;71(2):179-84. doi:10.1038/pr.2011.21.

Conrad MS, Dilger RN, Johnson RW. Brain growth of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa) from 2 to 24 weeks of age: a longitudinal MRI study. Dev Neurosci. 2012;34(4):291-8. doi: 10.1159/000339311.

Dilger RN, Johnson RW. Behavioral assessment of cognitive function using a translational neonatal piglet model. Brain Behav Immun. 2010 Oct;24(7):1156-65. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2010.05.008.