Researchers Develop First Bearded Dragon Brain Atlas

Interdisciplinary researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign performed MRI scans on bearded dragons, like the one shown here, to generate a first-of-its-kind brain atlas: a high-resolution map of the creatures’ brain regions. . Credit: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

They aren’t too cuddly, but bearded dragons find their way into the hearts and homes of American families. And now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are making sure these scaly pets get the same medical care as Fluffy, Stripes and Snowball.

Interdisciplinary researchers from the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and the College of Veterinary Medicine performed MRI scans on bearded dragons to generate a first-of-its-kind brain atlas: a high-resolution map of the creatures’ brain regions.

Currently, there is no standardized protocol for performing MRIs on America’s #1 companion reptile.

“It’s hard to get spatial resolution enough to see disease in a bearded man’s brain dragon using a clinical MRI machine designed for humans,” said Brad Sutton, professor of bioengineering and technical director of the Beckman Institute’s Center for Biomedical Imaging. “It’s important to understand what a healthy bearded dragon’s brain looks like and to understand the variation between different animals.”

Anesthesia is commonly used for animals during MRI examinations. Since the scanner contains a strong magnet, specialized metal-free anesthetic monitoring equipment is also required.

“There are several instances where a bearded dragon would benefit from an MRI scan. However, an important consideration before ordering this diagnosis would be the risks associated with anesthesia,” said Krista Keller, assistant professor of veterinary and clinical medicine and the head of zoological medicine at the veterinary teaching hospital.







Bearded dragons are the #1 companion lizard in America. Dr. Krista Keller and “B” the Bearded Dragon explain why they’re creating an MRI brain atlas for these incredible reptiles. Keller is an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “B” is a bearded dragon with swag. This research was conducted in partnership between the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine. Credit: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

The researchers’ work was published in Frontiers in Veterinary Science. He identified a predictable and safe anesthesia protocol that can be used in future clinical cases. The data from this study also expand the clinical information available to researchers performing high-resolution MRI scans of bearded dragons in the future.

To compile their data, the team used a 3 Tesla MRI scanner located in the Beckman Biomedical Imaging Center to image seven bearded dragons in a safe and non-invasive way. Bearded dragons originated from a research and study colony and are the most common species of lizard encountered in veterinary medical practice.

The researchers used an image averaging strategy to compile the scans into a single idealized model of a bearded dragon brain; the resulting atlas will be used as standard reference material in the event that a bearded dragon might be diagnosed or treated for a neurological disease. Anatomical atlases of reptiles, including the Tawny Dragon, Tokay Gecko, and Common Garter Snake, were also used for reference.

  • How to MRI your dragon: Illinois researchers develop first bearded dragon brain atlas

    Interdisciplinary researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign performed MRI scans on bearded dragons, like the one pictured above, to generate a one-of-a-kind brain atlas: a high-resolution map of brain regions creatures. The image depicts a bearded dragon midsagittal section and was generated using a 3 Tesla MRI scanner located in the Biomedical Imaging Center of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology. The bearded dragon is facing left, with the top of its head matching the top of the image. Credit: Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.

  • How to MRI your dragon: Illinois researchers develop first bearded dragon brain atlas

    While bearded dragons could certainly benefit from MRI scans, the risks associated with anesthesia are significant, according to assistant professor of veterinary clinical medicine Krista Keller (pictured with a bearded dragon at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Veterinary Medicine). Photo courtesy of L. Brian Stauffer. Credit: L.Brian Stauffer.

“Our goal for this study was not only to provide clinicians with an anatomical reference of the bearded dragon brain, but also to establish a safe and effective MRI and sedation protocol that can be used in practices with access to an MRI. of 1.5 or 3 Tesla.” said Kari Foss, assistant professor of veterinary and clinical medicine.

Researchers have identified nine anatomical structures in the bearded dragon brain including the thalamus, optic nerveoptic tectum, lateral ventriclesspinal cord, forebrain, tectal ventricle, cerebellum, olfactory lobe and stalk.


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More information:
Kari D. Foss et al, establishing a protocol based on MRI and an atlas of the brain of the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), Frontiers in Veterinary Science (2022). DOI: 10.3389/fvets.2022.886333

Quote: How to MRI your dragon: Researchers develop first bearded dragon brain atlas (2022, June 28) Retrieved June 28, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-mri-dragon-bearded-brain-atlas. html

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