Tau accumulations in the brains of woodpeckers.
G, Siwek D, Cummings P. PLoS One. 2018
Feb 2;13(2):e0191526
Take Home Message: Tau accumulations were seen in woodpeckers but not in
control bird brains. This suggests that that pecking may induce the
accumulation of tau in woodpecker brains.
Tau accumulation, which is associated
with Alzheimer’s disease and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), may be a
result of repetitive mild traumatic brain injury. Many believe that woodpeckers
– who experience over 1000g’s while pecking – are resistant to neurotrauma and
have become a model for head safety equipment (helmet). However, we have little
evidence that woodpecker are resistant to repetitive head trauma. Therefore,
the authors dissected the brains of previously preserved brain tissues of 10
woodpeckers and 5 control birds to observe for tau accumulation (neurofibrillary
tangles) and axonal injury. The authors used a section of human brain tissue
with confirmed Alzheimer’s disease as the positive control and 5 red-winged
black bird brains as the experimental control. The authors observed abnormal tau
accumulations, especially in the frontal lobe, of 8 out of the 10 woodpecker
brains, and 0 of the red-winged black bird brains.
While many believe woodpeckers are
protected against brain trauma, the repetitive pecking may induce tau
accumulation. The researchers were only able to use 3 of the woodpecker brains
to identify global tau accumulations; however, it was interesting that one of
the woodpecker’s brain with the presence of tau accumulation was a juvenile,
which suggests this abnormal tau accumulation may not be a result of aging. It
should also be noted that all the controls, which had no tau accumulation, were
adults. It was also remarkable that 8 out of the 10 woodpecker brains had abnormal
tau accumulation in the frontal lobe that resembled what we find in humans,
where they appear as “dot-like” and “thread-like” projections patterns in the
brains. More research is necessary to confirm these findings; however, the
author’s findings suggest the woodpecker may be a suitable animal model to
further study CTE. Currently, medical professionals need to be aware of the
risks of repetitive head impacts, and educate their athletes about the risks that
may be associated with repetitive impacts. This includes dispelling misinformation
and putting the available evidence in proper context. This study is a necessary
reminder that not everyone will get CTE but it is critical that we discover why
some patients are at risk.
Questions for Discussion: Do you think athletes would be more likely
to report head impacts if they knew it could lead to a long-term disease like
Written by: Jane McDevitt
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban
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