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University of Colorado salmon study spawns new insight into human brain aging

A University of Colorado at Boulder study of landlocked salmon indicates they possess a genetically programmed "aging clock" timed by reproduction, which may provide insight into human aging and Alzheimer's disease.

Richard Jones, a professor emeritus in the environmental, population and organismic biology department, said the study is the first ever to identify deposits of a peptide known as beta amyloid in the brains of an aging, wild vertebrate population under natural conditions. Sticky deposits of beta amyloid, called plaques, are considered one of the hallmarks of aging and Alzheimer's disease in human brains.

Many neurologists believe that beta amyloid -- produced when a brain protein known as amyloid precursor protein, or APP, is chopped into pieces by enzymes -- causes brain neurons to degenerate and die, said CU-Boulder doctoral student and lead study author Tammy Maldonado. But other researchers now believe beta-amyloid deposits in the brain are relatively harmless and may even be beneficial.

The CU-Boulder biologists found that specific brain regions of spawning salmon exhibit neurodegeneration and amyloid plaques remarkably similar to those in humans. But other brain areas used for migration and spawning tasks continued to function, despite the presence of beta-amyloid plaques, Maldonado said.

Olfactory regions of the brain, for example, functioned well enough to allow the fish to return to their streams of origin and sense pheromones to coordinate spawning behavior, despite the presence of APP and amyloid plaques. Similarly, brain regions controlling magnetic and vibration senses, which are important in sexual behavior of salmon, also functioned despite build-ups of beta-amyloid deposits and APP in those areas of the brain, she said.

"Instead of being murderers, amyloid plaques may be allies of the brain during times of stress and trauma," said Jones. "Our work on salmon could indicate amyloid plaques may form around de
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Contact: Tammy Maldonado
Tammy.Maldonado@colorado.edu
303-735-4364
University of Colorado at Boulder
7-Mar-2000


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