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Archive for the ‘veterinary medicine’ Category

A Better Mouse Pain Picture

Loyal readers will recall Friday’s post in which Stephen Greene, professor in anesthesiology at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, commented on the first study of how a non-human animal’s face can express pain. Its publisher, Nature Methods, has kindly granted us permission to show a great set of pictures showing the “mouse grimace scale” that may some day be put to use in drug testing and veterinary care.

The "mouse grimace scale," according to the authors, "may provide insight into the subjective pain experience of mice."

Photo courtesy of Nature Methods and Dale J Langford, Andrea L Bailey, Mona Lisa Chanda, Sarah E Clarke, Tanya E Drummond, Stephanie Echols, Sarah Glick, Joelle Ingrao, Tammy Klassen-Ross, Michael L LaCroix-Fralish, Lynn Matsumiya, Robert E Sorge, Susana G Sotocinal, John M Tabaka, David Wong, Arn M J M van den Maagdenberg, Michel D Ferrari, Kenneth D Craig & Jeffrey S Mogil, authors of “Coding of facial expressions of pain in the laboratory mouse.”

A Better Mouse Pain Map

Photo courtesy of iklash via Flickr--

Animal pain has intrigued scientists for centuries, with questions ranging from whether they feel it at all–no kidding–to just how to gauge it. To state the obvious, they can’t talk, nor can they point to the smiley and not-so-smiley faces on a pain chart.

Canadian and Dutch researchers took a big step forward this week with the first study of how a non-human animal’s face can express pain. Putting mice in painful situations, they videotaped their reactions and documented bulging cheeks and noses, squinting eyes, and shifting ears and whiskers. Categorizing these gestures in levels of no pain, moderate pain, and severe pain, they created a “mouse grimace scale” for use in drug testing and veterinary care.

We brought this to the attention of Stephen Greene, a professor in anesthesiology at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, who has naturally made animal pain a central concern of his career. It turns out he has long been teaching veterinary students a range of methods of gauging an animal’s discomfort.

“The mouse study is interesting,” he said. “We teach veterinary students that recognizing pain in each species is an important step in developing successful analgesic therapies. In the clinical setting, behavioral cues such as food and water consumption, posture, activity level, and vocalization are used to categorize the degree of pain in animals. Physiologic variables like heart rate and blood pressure also contribute to the pain assessment. The development of the mouse grimace scale appears to be a reliable metric of pain (in the mouse) that will likely contribute to better understanding and treatment of pain in many other species.”

Nature Methods , 2010. DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.1455

Further Thoughts on Google and the Active Brain

To continue on the question of whether Google makes us smarter:

Last week we noted new research showing that the brains of veteran Google searchers have more active neural circuits and brain regions while searching than novices.

The poster of the item added this smart-aleck remark—“I’m no neuroscientist, but it sounds like Google is making them smarter.” An actively thinking reader agreed, at least on the “no neuroscientist part.” She then added, “You can’t judge the quality or depth of thought by mere ‘brain activity.’ Indeed, a calm brain is often the sign of a thoughtful brain.”

From the desk of WSM Discovery

So which is more thoughtful–a calm brain or an active brain? For an answer, we returned to an actual neuroscientist, WSU’s Jaak Panksepp. His bottom line: It’s all good food for thought.

“Yes,” he wrote in an email, “abundant brain research does show that experts can proceed with a cognitive task by using their brain more efficiently, which is often reflected in less brain arousal than exhibited by novices.  Of course, the fly in the ointment is that each type of cognitive task needs to be taken on its own terms.

“With regard to the Internet, one could imagine that greater recruiting of diverse brain networks is a sign of sophisticated thinking.  However, this is just an interpretation rather than an established fact.   In this same vein, it may be worth noting that expert Zen meditators exhibit massive arousal of frontal lobe regions compared to novices.  What all these brain ‘correlates’ mean remains open to multiple interpretations.  As usual, correlates are not easily translated into causes, although they provide useful raw material for creative thinking about such ultra-complex BrainMind issues.”

Petri Sheep

In the winter of 2003, a large herd of bison in an Idaho feedlot was cut in half when a disease outbreak swept through, killing 825 animals.

Two years ago, 19 cattle, most owned by FFA students, died after being shown in Washington’s Puyallup State Fair.

In both instances, Washington State University researchers determined the animals died of malignant catarrhal fever because they had been kept near flocks of sheep, which routinely carry a disease called ovine herpes virus 2. Researchers have known of the disease for decades, but have repeatedly been frustrated in their attempts to grow it in a lab—a major step in developing a vaccine.

James Butler photo courtesy of Flickr. Click photo to view his photostream.

So they use the next best thing to a Petri dish: sheep.

USDA and WSU researchers, writing in an upcoming issue of the journal Veterinary Microbiology, say they have propagated the virus in sheep and for the first time identified specific cells where it can replicate. Their discovery opens the door for growing these cells and the virus in a laboratory setting, where they can then begin developing vaccines.

Naomi Taus, lead author and veterinary medical officer for the Pullman unit of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, says she and her colleagues collected secretions from sheep—snot, actually—and aerosolized it to expose other sheep. They then took tissue samples from the sheep and searched for infections by looking for fluorescent markers designed to bind with proteins associated with the virus and certain cell types.

It turns out the virus is entering the sheep at the deepest levels of the lungs in what’s called a type II alveolar epithelial cell—a cell related to skin cells.

Researchers now hope to culture and manipulate these cells in a laboratory setting—a real Petri dish—to develop a vaccine that can be used by the bison industry.

Taus, N.S., Schneider, D.A., Oaks, J.L., Yan, H.,Gailbreath, K.L., Knowles, D.P., Li, H., Sheep (Ovis aries) airway epithelial cells support ovine herpesvirus 2 lytic replication in vivo, Veterinary Microbiology (2008),doi:10.1016/j.vetmic.2010.03.013