J Neurosci Methods. 2021 Feb 10:109097. doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2021.109097. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Domoic acid (DOM) is a neurotoxin produced by some harmful algae blooms in coastal waters. California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) exposed to DOM often strand on beaches where they exhibit a variety of symptoms, including seizures. These animals typically show hippocampal atrophy on MRI scans.
NEW METHOD: We describe an MRI protocol for comprehensive evaluation of DOM toxicosis in the sea lion brain. We intend to study brain development in pups exposed in utero. The protocol depicts the hippocampal formation as the primary region of interest. We include scans for quantitative morphometry, functional and structural connectivity, and a cerebral blood flow map.
RESULTS: High-resolution 3D anatomical scans facilitate post hoc slicing in arbitrary planes and accurate morphometry. We demonstrate the first cerebral blood flow map using MRI, and the first structural tractography from a live sea lion brain.
COMPARISON WITH EXISTING METHODS: Scans were compared to prior anatomical and functional studies in live sea lions, and structural connectivity in post mortem specimens. Hippocampal volumes were broadly in line with prior studies, with differences likely attributable to the 3D approach used here. Functional connectivity of the dorsal left hippocampus matched that found in a prior study conducted at a lower magnetic field, while structural connectivity in the live brain agreed with findings observed in post mortem studies.
CONCLUSIONS: Our protocol provides a comprehensive, longitudinal view of the functional and anatomical changes expected to result from DOM toxicosis. It can also screen for other common neurological pathologies and is suitable for any pinniped that can fit inside an MRI scanner.