Featured Image Credit: ANDREA IZZOTTI/GETTY IMAGES
By: Laura O’Brien
A research team recently discovered the presence of protein clusters (called plaques) and neurofibrillary tangles together inside dolphin’s brains. The relevance of this discovery (for those who aren’t neuroscientists) is that these are pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and have never before been found in marine mammals.
The similarities between the dolphin and human brains mean that this discovery could lead to more revelations about Alzheimer’s in humans. The presence of the plaques and tangles supports the team’s hypothesis which proposes that two main factors can lead to Alzheimer’s in dolphins. The two main conditions the team hypothesized increase risk of Alzheimer’s in dolphins are that dolphins have a lifespan that continues well past the end of their fertility, and insulin signaling.
One of the authors of the paper, Gallego-Iradi, began the study over a decade ago. Dolphins have a long lifespan, and their years of fertility end well before the end of their lifespan. This made them excellent candidates to study the hypothesis on. Dolphins are known to strand for a multitude of reasons, such as illness, polluted water, and other issues, however, strandings are investigated by scientists in order to determine the cause.
Three different species of stranded dolphins provided the basis for the team’s recent discovery. In the past, he has had other intriguing findings regarding insulin. Diabetes is an insulin-related disease which may share similar triggers as Alzheimer’s. Some of Gallego-Iradi’s previous findings led to Dr. Simon Lovestone and Dr. Frank Gunn-Moore of Oxford University and University of Saint Andrews, respectively, beginning a hypothesis which proposes that having a lifespan extend well past fertility (which is related to a failure in insulin), may cause Alzheimer’s in humans.
Gallego-Iradi’s research on both Alzheimer’s and Diabetes have already led to significant discoveries. His future research may hold answers which could dramatically improve and elongate human health.
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