Toxins (2024)

DOI: 10.3390/toxins16010042


Cetaceans are well-regarded as sentinels for toxin exposure. Emerging studies suggest that cetaceans can also develop neuropathological changes associated with neurodegenerative disease. The occurrence of neuropathology makes cetaceans an ideal species for examining the impact of marine toxins on the brain across the lifespan. Here, we describe TAR DNA-binding protein 43 (TDP-43) proteinopathy and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) neuropathological changes in a beached harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) that was exposed to a toxin produced by cyanobacteria called β-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA). We found pathogenic TDP-43 cytoplasmic inclusions in neurons throughout the cerebral cortex, midbrain and brainstem. P62/sequestosome-1, responsible for the autophagy of misfolded proteins, was observed in the amygdala, hippocampus and frontal cortex. Genes implicated in AD and TDP-43 neuropathology such as APP and TARDBP were expressed in the brain. AD neuropathological changes such as amyloid-β plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, granulovacuolar degeneration and Hirano bodies were present in the hippocampus. These findings further support the development of progressive neurodegenerative disease in cetaceans and a potential causative link to cyanobacterial toxins. Climate change, nutrient pollution and industrial waste are increasing the frequency of harmful cyanobacterial blooms. Cyanotoxins like BMAA that are associated with neurodegenerative disease pose an increasing public health risk.