Scientists restore some functions in a pig's brain hours after death

April 17, 2019

New Haven, Conn. -- Circulation and cellular activity were restored in a pig's brain four hours after its death, a finding that challenges long-held assumptions about the timing and irreversible nature of the cessation of some brain functions after death, Yale scientists report April 18 in the journal Nature.

The brain of a postmortem pig obtained from a meatpacking plant was isolated and circulated with a specially designed chemical solution. Many basic cellular functions, once thought to cease seconds or minutes after oxygen and blood flow cease, were observed, the scientists report.

"The intact brain of a large mammal retains a previously underappreciated capacity for restoration of circulation and certain molecular and cellular activities multiple hours after circulatory arrest," said senior author Nenad Sestan, professor of neuroscience, comparative medicine, genetics, and psychiatry.

However, researchers also stressed that the treated brain lacked any recognizable global electrical signals associated with normal brain function.

"At no point did we observe the kind of organized electrical activity associated with perception, awareness, or consciousness," said co-first author Zvonimir Vrselja, associate research scientist in neuroscience. "Clinically defined, this is not a living brain, but it is a cellularly active brain."

Cellular death within the brain is usually considered to be a swift and irreversible process. Cut off from oxygen and a blood supply, the brain's electrical activity and signs of awareness disappear within seconds, while energy stores are depleted within minutes. Current understanding maintains that a cascade of injury and death molecules are then activated leading to widespread, irreversible degeneration.

However, researchers in Sestan's lab, whose research focuses on brain development and evolution, observed that the small tissue samples they worked with routinely showed signs of cellular viability, even when the tissue was harvested multiple hours postmortem. Intrigued, they obtained the brains of pigs processed for food production to study how widespread this postmortem viability might be in the intact brain. Four hours after the pig's death, they connected the vasculature of the brain to circulate a uniquely formulated solution they developed to preserve brain tissue, utilizing a system they call BrainEx. They found neural cell integrity was preserved, and certain neuronal, glial, and vascular cell functionality was restored.

The new system can help solve a vexing problem -- the inability to apply certain techniques to study the structure and function of the intact large mammalian brain -- which hinders rigorous investigations into topics like the roots of brain disorders, as well as neuronal connectivity in both healthy and abnormal conditions.

"Previously, we have only been able to study cells in the large mammalian brain under static or largely two-dimensional conditions utilizing small tissue samples outside of their native environment," said co-first author Stefano G. Daniele, an M.D./Ph.D. candidate. "For the first time, we are able to investigate the large brain in three dimensions, which increases our ability to study complex cellular interactions and connectivity."

While the advance has no immediate clinical application, the new research platform may one day be able to help doctors find ways to help salvage brain function in stroke patients, or test the efficacy of novel therapies targeting cellular recovery after injury, the authors say.

The research was primarily funded by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) BRAIN Initiative.

"This line of research holds hope for advancing understanding and treatment of brain disorders and could lead to a whole new way of studying the postmortem human brain," said Andrea Beckel-Mitchener, chief of functional neurogenomics at the NIH's National Institute of Mental Health, which co-funded the research.

The researchers said that it is unclear whether this approach can be applied to a recently deceased human brain. The chemical solution used lacks many of the components natively found in human blood, such as the immune system and other blood cells, which makes the experimental system significantly different from normal living conditions. However, the researcher stressed any future study involving human tissue or possible revival of global electrical activity in postmortem animal tissue should be done under strict ethical oversight.

"Restoration of consciousness was never a goal of this research," said co-author Stephen Latham, director of Yale's Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics. "The researchers were prepared to intervene with the use of anesthetics and temperature-reduction to stop organized global electrical activity if it were to emerge. Everyone agreed in advance that experiments involving revived global activity couldn't go forward without clear ethical standards and institutional oversight mechanisms."

There is an ethical imperative to use tools developed by the Brain Initiative to unravel mysteries of brain injuries and disease, said Christine Grady, chief of the Department of Bioethics at the NIH Clinical Center.

"It's also our duty to work with researchers to thoughtfully and proactively navigate any potential ethical issues they may encounter as they open new frontiers in brain science," she said.
-end-


Yale University

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.