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Cell activity returns in postmortem brain

Medicine@Yale, 2019 - June July


Yale scientists took the brains of pigs slaughtered at a meatpacking plant and, four hours after death, perfused them with a preservative solution that included hemoglobin, nutrients, oxygen, and cytoprotective components—which restored some cellular activities. The results, published on April 17 in Nature, suggest that postmortem brain decline may not be as rapid and irreversible as scientists previously thought.

Researchers led by Nenad Sestan, MD, PhD, Harvey and Kate Cushing Professor of Neuroscience, and professor of comparative medicine, genetics, and psychiatry, connected each pig brain to a mechanical circulatory system called BrainEx, which pumped the solution through the brain. While other brains circulated with a control solution deteriorated during the six-hour perfusion, those perfused with the preservative mixture maintained intact brain structures, functioning blood vessels, and metabolic activity. Hippocampal neurons fired spontaneously and in response to stimulation. The investigators did not observe any brain-wide electrical activities associated with consciousness. Had they, the research would have been stopped.

The possibility of restoring cellular activities in a postmortem brain may lead to research that could shed new light on brain disorders, such as stroke.