What is it about?

In this manuscript, we constructed functional brain networks and used graph theory metrics to compare the differences between anxious and healthy dog groups. We found that nodal degree and global efficiency were significantly higher in brain regions of the anxiety circuit in anxious dogs. The characteristic path length was significantly lower in the amygdala and mesencephalon in the anxiety dog group. In the amygdala, clustering coefficient and local efficiency were significantly higher in the patient group. We also detected higher functional connectivity between amygdala-hippocampus, amygdala-mesencephalon, amygdala-thalamus, frontal lobe-hippocampus, frontal lobe-thalamus, and hippocampus-thalamus, all part of the anxiety circuit. Moreover, changes in network metrics were correlated with anxiety symptoms, assessed using a behavioral assessment questionnaire.

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Why is it important?

Our findings provide more insight into the topological organization of the functional brain connectome in anxiety disorder. Although we made use of a canine model, this model has been validated extensively as a natural translational animal model for the investigation of the neurobiological base of behavioral disorders. Therefore, we believe that our results are highly relevant for humans as well. They could lead to a better understanding of the pathophysiological mechanisms and illness course of anxiety in both animals and humans and help the development of more personalized and effective therapies.


Given these limitations of the current treatments (psychotherapy/behaviour therapy and psychopharmacotherapy or a combination of both) in both human medicine and veterinary medicine, in recent years, non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has emerged as therapeutic tools for neurology and psychiatry, which might be an important additional treatment arm to increase response and remission rates. However, the knowledge of TMS’ neurobiological base of action is still far from complete, and optimization of the stimulation parameters is still a major focus of research, not in the least the clinical duration of such intervention. Since dogs can develop these behavior disorders naturally, and showing similar alterations in the brain, thus, canine can also be a translational animal model for TMS research. By knowing more about the mechanisms of anxiety in dogs, we can have better understanding in applying TMS in dogs. From a future clinical viewpoint, the results of our study are therefore relevant for the treatment of patients with anxiety disorders in both human and veterinary medicine.

Yangfeng Xu
Universiteit Gent

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This page is a summary of: Network analysis reveals abnormal functional brain circuitry in anxious dogs, PLoS ONE, March 2023, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0282087.
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