Rault, J.-L., Lai, A., Hemsworth, L. et al. 2020. Wireless ‘under the skull’ epidural EEG and behavior in piglets during nitrous oxide or carbon dioxide gas euthanasia. Physiology & Behavior 227, 113142.
Consciousness is central to animal welfare concerns. Its assessment is most often conducted based on behavior, with a poor understanding of the correspondence between behavior and the neurobiological processes that underlie the subjective experience of consciousness. Recording of brain electrical activity using electrodes placed under the skull improves EEG recording by minimizing artifacts from muscular or cardiac activities, and it can now be combined with wireless recording in free-moving animals. This experiment investigated the correspondence between wireless ‘under the skull’ epidural EEG and the behavior of 18 five-week-old female piglets undergoing nitrous oxide (N2O) or carbon dioxide (CO2) gradual fill gas euthanasia at 25% replacement rate per minute of the chamber volume. Piglets exposed to CO2 had a peak in EEG total power (‘Ptot’) during the flailing stage, whereas piglets exposed to N2O had a higher EEG 95% spectral edge frequency (‘F95’) during their initial explorative behavior phase and a drop in EEG median frequency (‘F50’) after loss of posture. Loss of posture without righting attempt, as the last behavioral state observed during euthanasia, preceded the onset of transitional EEG on average by 0.9 and 3.1 min (for CO2 and N2O treatments, respectively), and the onset of isoelectric EEG by 4.5 and 6.2 min (for CO2 and N2O treatments, respectively). Paddling movements occurred shortly before and during transitional EEG but never during isoelectric EEG, whereas gasps persisted after the EEG had become isoelectric. The dynamics of EEG spectral changes were complex to interpret in relation to the degree of consciousness, but isoelectric EEG as an unequivocal indicator of unconsciousness appeared several minutes after loss of posture with no righting attempt. This leaves a window of uncertainty in regards to the potential for consciousness after loss of posture during gradual fill gas euthanasia in piglets.