The canine brain atlas sheds light on the evolution and functions of the human brain

summary: A recent study using the canine brain atlas has yielded important insights into the evolution of the human brain. By investigating brain activity in dogs through functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have revealed the critical role of the cingulate cortex and lateral prefrontal lobe in problem-solving and task switching.

The research has also shed light on how regions of the brain work in sync to form task-specific networks. This innovative study offers potential in understanding conditions related to communication and integration in a brain region, including aging, anxiety, and psychiatric disorders.

Key facts:

  1. The study used a new canine resting-state fMRI brain atlas to analyze dog brain activity and revealed the important role of the cingulate cortex in mammalian brain development.
  2. 33 trained dogs participated in the study, and fMRI recordings were made when the dogs were at rest.
  3. The new rs-fMRI brain atlas can help study conditions in which integration and communication between brain regions is impaired, such as aging, anxiety and psychiatric disorders.

source: ELTE

A study of canine brain networks revealed that during mammalian brain development, the role of the cingulate cortex, a bilateral structure located deep in the cerebral cortex, was partially taken over by the lateral frontal lobes, which control problem-solving, task-switching, and goal-directed behavior.

The study relies on an fMRI brain atlas, which can help analyze diseases characterized by defects in the integration and communication between brain regions.

Researchers interested in how dogs think can not only infer this from their behavior, but also investigate their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify and see which areas of the brain are active when the dog reacts to external stimuli.

The method identifies brain mechanisms that influence a dog’s learning and memory, leading to superior dog training methods as well as learning about the evolutionary steps that led to the evolution of human brain functions.

The Department of Behaviorism at Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) has been at the forefront of developing the methodology for canine fMRI measurements since 2006.

The pet dog training methodology was developed by Márta Gácsi, who also made significant contributions to the introduction of assistance dog training in Hungary.

She adopted many methods from there, supplementing them with socially motivated training based on competition training principles that had been discovered through behavioral research.

In this approach, the learner is intensely motivated to learn the task by observing the work of an already trained dog and wanting to praise it. As a result of the MRI training, the trained dog is able (and so excited!) to lie still in the MRI scanner for eight hours. minutes, as opposed to petting and expected treats.”

In recent years, fMRI of dogs has generally involved playing sounds for animals and investigating which brain regions are activated during the brain’s processing of sounds.

Signals of brain activity are usually displayed on an anatomical atlas to identify the affected brain area.

The problem, however, is that functional activities are irregular, and do not necessarily follow anatomically defined regular boundaries. Parts of the brain are generally involved in processing specific inputs together, that is, they work synchronously, forming a functional brain network.

“We decided to create a dog brain atlas that organizes anatomical regions into functional networks, shows which regions belong to which type of task and shows their locations.” said Dora Szabo, first author of the study published in Structure and function of the brain.

A new atlas for canine brain researchers

To create the functional brain atlas, 33 trained family dogs were included in the study. During the fMRI recording, the dogs were not given any task other than to lie still in the scanner.

This is the so-called resting-state fMRI, or rs-fMRI for short, which examines brain activity without the person engaging in any specific task, without concentrating or thinking about anything in particular, in a “resting state”.

Data obtained in this way can reveal which regions of the brain are functionally related to each other and which are closely interconnected, allowing researchers to study brain networks and connections.

The original methodology was further improved by applying network theory with the help of Milan Yanusov, a network and data scientist at Central European University.

Whereas previous research could only describe model-based networks regardless of anatomical boundaries, new canine MRI brain atlases that reflect anatomical regions with the required accuracy have enabled the researchers to study the strength of connections between network members or between networks, as well as compare species due to the size of the large canine population.

The brains are dominated by different regions in dogs and humans

According to the study, the networks in the lateral frontal (frontal-parietal) lobes that control problem-solving, task-switching, and goal-directed behavior have a smaller role in dogs than they do in humans. In its place, the cingulate cortex, a bilateral structure located deep in the cerebral cortex, plays a central role.

It is involved in a number of vital processes in addition to reward processing and emotion regulation. The cingulate cortex in dogs is proportionally larger than in humans.

effects of aging

The researchers measured dogs of different ages, the oldest being 14 years old. As previously mentioned, dogs must lie still to get correct measurements.

The data revealed that older dogs were slightly less able to maintain their starting position.

However, this difference was so small that even in their case, the head offset was less than 0.4 mm. In this aspect, they are similar to humans, as older people also find it more difficult to maintain stillness for long periods of time than younger individuals,” said Eniko Coppini, senior researcher who studies cognitive aging in dogs.

“The study provides a glimpse into the development of the human brain, suggesting that during the evolution of the mammalian brain, the role of the cingulate cortex was partially taken over by fronto-parietal regions.”

In addition, the new rs-fMRI brain atlas can help investigate conditions in which integration and communication across brain regions is impaired, leading to inefficient division of tasks. Aging, anxiety and mental disorders are some examples of such conditions.

Funding: The project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC, 680040), from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences through a grant to the MTA-ELTE Companion Animal Research Group ‘Lendület/Momentum’ (PH1404/21) and the National Brain Program 3.0 (NAP2022-I-3/2022). ), as well as the ELKH-ELTE Comparative Ethics Research Group (01031).

About this research in Neuroscience News

author: Sarah Boom
source: ELTE
communication: Sarah Baum – ELTE
picture: Image credited to Neuroscience News

Original search: open access.
The central nodes of the functional brain networks of dogs are concentrated in the cingulate gyrusBy Márta Gácsi et al. Structure and function of the brain

a summary

The central nodes of the functional brain networks of dogs are concentrated in the cingulate gyrus

Compared to the field of human fMRI, knowledge about functional networks in dogs is scarce. In this paper, we present the first ROI-based anatomically defined functional network (region of interest) map of the companion dog brain. We examined 33 awake dogs in a ‘task-free state’.

Our trained subjects, similar to humans, willingly remain motionless during scanning. Our goal is to provide a reference map with the current best estimate of the organization of the cerebral cortex as measured by functional connectivity.

The results extend a previous spatial ICA (Independent Component Analysis) study (Szabo et al. in Sci Rep 9 (1): 1.25., with the current study including (1) more subjects and (2) an improved scanning protocol to avoid asymmetric lateral deformities.

in dogs, similarly to humans (Sacca et al. in J Neurosci Methods., 2021), obsolescence increased frame displacement (i.e. head movement) in the scanner.

Despite the inherently different approaches between model-free ICA and model-based ROI, the resulting functional networks show remarkable similarity.

However, in this study, we did not detect a specific auditory network. Instead, we identified two highly interconnected, multi-regional networks extending into parasympathetic regions (Sylvian L, Sylvian R), including the respective auditory regions, together with the associative, sensory, and insular cortices.

Attention and control networks are not divided into two completely separate ad hoc networks. In general, in dogs, the fronto-parietal plexuses and axons were less dominant than in humans, with the cingulate gyrus playing a central role.

The present manuscript provides the first attempt to map whole-brain functional networks in dogs through a model-based approach.

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