A newly released study, jointly conducted by scientists from the U.K. and the U.S., has found that dolphin brains, which in a number of ways are similar to the brains of humans, can show pathological signs of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Maria Gallego-Iradi and David Borchelt, neuroscientists at the University of Florida who were involved in the research, are quoted extensively in an article in Mercury News in which they said it is a significant find that may lead to further Alzheimer’s and dementia research discoveries.
“This is the first time that these signs – neurofibrillary tangles and two kinds of protein clusters called plaques – have been discovered together in marine mammals,” the two say in the article.
“As neuroscience researchers, we believe this discovery has added significance because of the similarities between dolphin brains and human brains.”
Dolphin brains and plaques
Gallego-Iradi began the study on the brains of three species of dolpins (bottlenose, striped and Risso’s) 10 years ago while she was working in Spain and has since worked with other scientists on the project. The deceased dolphins she studied had been found ‘stranded’ on beaches in Spain and it is not know if they had exhibited signs of cognitive decline in their lives.
Gallego-Iradi said the research “has led us to hypothesize that Alzheimer’s and diabetes are diseases not of old age but of a long post-fertility life span.”
Alzheimer’s is characterized by clusters of beta-amyloid protein plaques (‘senile plaques’) outside of the cells in brains and another protein, tau, inside of it ‘(neurofibrillary tangles’). Such a development can be present not only in human brains, the research finds, but in the brains of the (deceased) dolphins they examined.
Toll of Alzheimer’s Disease
Humans and dolphins, and other cetaceans, have long post-fertility lives. “This is important, as longevity is one of the most relevant factors in neuro-degenerative diseases,” Gallego-Iradi and Borchelt write.
“Cetaceans have longevity ranges between 20-100 years, which is enough time to develop brain amyloid deposits,” they added.
Alzheimer’s Disease International estimates that in 2016 nearly 44 million people worldwide suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease and other dementia. It is on the rise and in the U.S. is now the fifth leading cause of death; further, in that country alone over $200 billion is spent annually in care for those with the illness and in research.
Gallego-Iradi and Borchelt believe their research results will join other promising discoveries in helping to find a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease.