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Why diving marine mammals resist brain damage from low oxygen
Date:12/18/2007

ctive free radicals. Together, she said, these two resident neuroglobins could help keep the brain functioning and well-protected against damage during hypoxia.

To test this hypothesis, Williams brought together a team that included molecular biologists, biochemists, and wildlife veterinarians. The researchers wanted to find out if the amounts and kinds of globins in the brain correlated with the physical activity patterns of various wild mammals. They collected brain tissue from 41 terrestrial mammals and 23 marine mammals representing 15 wild species and one laboratory species. These came from state animal control programs or were "found" animals that had died from roadkill, fisheries bycatch, or stranding.

For each brain sample, the team measured hemoglobin and resident neuroglobins--the neuroglobins and cytoglobins--in the cerebral cortex. In the laboratory of coauthor David Kliger, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC, the researchers used a technique called spectrophotometry to identify and quantify the minute quantities of brain globins that were present at the time of the animal's death.

They found a striking difference in globin levels depending on whether the species was a terrestrial, swimming, or diving specialist, according to Williams. Compared to terrestrial mammals, marine species had higher amounts of hemoglobin--and their brain tissues were darker in color due to an abundance of iron.

But the study results weren't entirely as expected: the shallow-swimming and highly active dolphins, sea lions, and sea otters had higher amounts of resident neuroglobins than did the deep-diving whales. And then there was the bobcat. Unlike the dog-related species--foxes and coyotes--three bobcat individuals had surprisingly high amounts of resident brain globins.

"Maybe it's not just breath-holding that stimulates these globins, but high levels of activity, such as sprinting," Williams said.

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Contact: Tim Stephens
stephens@ucsc.edu
831-459-2495
University of California - Santa Cruz
Source:Eurekalert

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