Brain health: A new frontier for animal welfare

AB Lawrence, Gerry Thompson, Neil A. Mabbott, Barry W. McColl, Sarah M Brown

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The study of the mechanisms that maintain brain homeostasis and contribute to brain health is an area of rapidlyexpanding knowledge in translational science. We argue here that there is considerable value in applyingunderstanding of brain homeostasis and health to animal welfare. This paper will introduce some of the physicalconstituents of brain health, with exemplars to demonstrate the relevance of brain health to animal welfare.Physical constituents of brain health (examples): There has been recent interest in the relationship betweenhippocampal neurogenesis and animal welfare. However, other non-neuronal cells, tissues and fluids all havepotential influences on animal welfare. Glial cells (astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and microglia) have inter-relatedfunctions crucial to the maintenance of brain homeostasis. All glial cell types are involved in psychologicalfunctions including learning, emotions and mood. Under challenge, there is evidence that glial cells can contributenegatively to brain homeostasis, for example contributing to the development of chronic anxiety and depression.The brains’ microvascular system permeates into brain tissue providing the metabolic needs of neurons and othercells; the blood-brain-barrier (BBB) forms a barrier around these capillaries limiting the passage of molecules intothe brain. There is evidence that challenges (including psychosocial stress) can increase permeability of the BBBpermitting passage of inflammatory molecules into the brain affecting neural functioning and leading to onset ofanxiety and depressive like symptoms.Relevance of brain health to animal welfare: Sickness behaviour is a well-described example of how diseaseprocesses lead to perturbation of brain homeostasis, with direct effects on psychological functions and animalwelfare. Repeated social defeat (RSD) studies in mice have revealed bi-directional brain-body interactions in theestablishment of the emotional and cognitive consequences of chronic social stress; for example, RSD may resultin inflammatory immune cells entering the brain through breakdown of the BBB enhancing pro-inflammatory brainmechanisms that contribute to chronic anxiety. There is also a substantial literature on the positive effects ofenvironmental enrichment (EE) on brain health (including on glial cell function and BBB integrity). Evidencesuggests that many of the beneficial effects of EE are activity-dependent involving exercise and learning withsignificant implications for developing EE interventions to improve animal welfare.In conclusion, applying the concept of brain health to animal welfare opens up an expanding knowledge base andrange of techniques to understand how brain homeostasis is maintained and perturbed in small and large animals,with significant potential for yielding interventions to improve animal welfare.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPrint publication - 28 Jun 2022
EventUFAW International Conference 2022:
Advancing Animal Welfare Science
- Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh , Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 28 Jun 202229 Jun 2022


ConferenceUFAW International Conference 2022:
Advancing Animal Welfare Science
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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