Neuroscience Program graduate student, Joanne Fil, from the Piglet Nutrition and Cognition Lab, presenting at Beckman on March 4th

Nutrition and Brain Development Using a Pig Model

Global health organizations recommend breast milk as the ideal source of nutrients for babies. However, breastfeeding may not be possible for all women due to specific medical situations, lifestyles, or comfort levels. For individuals that either cannot or choose not to breastfeed, infant formula serves as a convenient and healthy alternative. Nutritional technologies being incorporated into infant formulas are continually improving to more closely mimic the essential components that are in breast milk. Polar lipids are structural components of neural tissue that may play important roles in supporting brain development in the infant. Therefore, we were interested in investigating the longitudinal effects of dietary polar lipid ingestion on cognitive and structural brain development in the biomedical pig model

During the first four weeks of life, pigs received an unsupplemented, but nutritionally adequate, control diet; the same diet supplemented with polar lipids to match breastmilk concentrations; or they were sow-reared (to be used as a reference group). After 4 weeks of age, all pigs were placed on the same nutritionally adequate diet until 24 weeks of age (i.e., sexual maturity). At 4 weeks of age, pigs were subjected to the eye blink conditioning behavioral task to observe the influence of supplementation on associative memory. They also performed the novel object recognition task at 4 and 8 weeks of age to test recognition memory. Additionally, pigs underwent longitudinal MRI scans to see the influence of polar lipid supplementation on brain development. Preliminary results indicate that pigs without a supplemented diet had larger relative volumes in the left and right caudate and right putamen-globus pallidus compared with pigs receiving supplemental polar lipids diet. This suggests that synaptic pruning may be occurring faster in pigs provided early-life dietary polar lipids, indicating faster brain maturation, but further analyses need to be performed before making conclusions.

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