Early postnatal respiratory viral infection induces structural and neurochemical changes in the neonatal piglet brain

Matthew S. Conrad, Bradley P. Sutton, Ryan Larsen, William G. van Alstine, Rodney W. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Infections that cause inflammation during the postnatal period are common, yet little is known about their impact on brain development in gyrencephalic species. To address this issue, we investigated brain development in domestic piglets which have brain growth and morphology similar to human infants, after experimentally infecting them with porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) to induce an interstitial pneumonia Piglets were inoculated with PRRSV on postnatal day (PD) 7 and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to assess brain macrostructure (voxel-based morphometry), microstructure (diffusion tensor imaging) and neurochemistry (MR-spectroscopy) at PD 29 or 30. PRRSV piglets exhibited signs of infection throughout the post-inoculation period and had elevated plasma levels of TNFα at the end of the study. PRRSV infection increased the volume of several components of the ventricular system including the cerebral aqueduct, fourth ventricle, and the lateral ventricles. Group comparisons between control and PRRSV piglets defined 8 areas where PRRSV piglets had less gray matter volume; 5 areas where PRRSV piglets had less white matter volume; and 4 relatively small areas where PRRSV piglets had more white matter. Of particular interest was a bilateral reduction in gray and white matter in the primary visual cortex. PRRSV piglets tended to have reduced fractional anisotropy in the corpus callosum. Additionally, N-acetylaspartate, creatine, and myo-inositol were decreased in the hippocampus of PRRSV piglets suggesting disrupted neuronal and glial health and energy imbalances. These findings show in a gyrencephalic species that early-life infection can affect brain growth and development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)326-335
Number of pages10
JournalBrain, Behavior, and Immunity
StatePublished - 2015


  • Brain
  • Development
  • Infection
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Neonatal
  • Pig

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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