Early-life nutrition and neurodevelopment: Use of the piglet as a translational model

Austin T. Mudd, Ryan N. Dilger

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Optimal nutrition early in life is critical to ensure proper structural and functional development of infant organ systems. Although pediatric nutrition historically has emphasized research on the relation between nutrition, growth rates, and gastrointestinal maturation, efforts increasingly have focused on how nutrition influences neurodevelopment. The provision of human milk is considered the gold standard in pediatric nutrition; thus, there is interest in understanding how functional nutrients and bioactive components in milk may modulate developmental processes. The piglet has emerged as an important translational model for studying neurodevelopmental outcomes influenced by pediatric nutrition. Given the comparable nutritional requirements and strikingly similar brain developmental patterns between young pigs and humans, the piglet is being used increasingly in developmental nutritional neuroscience studies. The piglet primarily has been used to assess the effects of dietary fatty acids and their accretion in the brain throughout neurodevelopment. However, recent research indicates that other dietary components, including choline, iron, cholesterol, gangliosides, and sialic acid, among other compounds, also affect neurodevelopment in the pig model. Moreover, novel analytical techniques, including but not limited to MRI, behavioral assessments, and molecular quantification, allow for a more holistic understanding of how nutrition affects neurodevelopmental patterns. By combining early-life nutritional interventions with innovative analytical approaches, opportunities abound to quantify factors affecting neurodevelopmental trajectories in the neonate. This review discusses research using the translational pig model with primary emphasis on early-life nutrition interventions assessing neurodevelopment outcomes, while also discussing nutritionally-sensitive methods to characterize brain maturation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)92-104
Number of pages13
JournalAdvances in Nutrition
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2017


  • Animal model
  • Early-life nutrition
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Pediatric nutrition
  • Piglet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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