Face-to-face collisions can lead to head injuries in musk oxen

(ORDO NEWS) — During the mating season, musk oxen violently clash their foreheads, and until recently it was believed that the anatomical features of the structure of their heads prevent such animals from receiving craniocerebral injuries.

A study by American scientists refuted this assertion: as it turned out, mating tournaments of musk oxen can lead to serious injuries, and even death.

Every year, during the rut, many species of hoofed mammals arrange violent tournaments during which heads are clashed.

The musk ox ( Ovibos moschatus ), perhaps, can be considered an extreme champion here : when approaching, the fighting males develop a speed of about 50 kilometers per hour, and the sound of their colliding foreheads spreads for kilometers around.

In total, there can be up to 20 collisions in the tournament, during which the skulls of animals experience the same load as a passenger car colliding with a concrete wall at a speed of 27 kilometers per hour.

The frontal bone, which is almost ten centimeters thick, was previously thought to protect the brains of animals from serious damage, although after a collision, bulls can shake their heads in a dazed way and experience problems with coordination of movements.

A group of American scientists decided to check whether mating tournaments of musk oxen are so “safe” by examining the brains of three dead such animals living from Greenland.

The findings were compared with those of four brains of large- horned sheep ( Ovis canadensis ), another extreme clash enthusiast, as well as the brains of two people who suffered from brain damage (one had advanced Alzheimer’s disease , the other had boxer’s encephalopathy ).

To look for signs of traumatic brain injury, the researchers took thin sections of the brain and treated them with antibodies designed to detect phosphorylated tau proteins, which in humans and mice are indicative of neurodegenerative processes in the brain. In all samples, antibodies detect the corresponding proteins, which may indicate intravital brain damage.

Face to face collisions can lead to head injuries in musk oxen
Photographs of antibody-treated brain sections of a human with Alzheimer’s disease (a–c), a human with boxer encephalopathy (d–f), an old male musk ox (g–i), and a male bighorn sheep (j–l). Pay attention to dark objects – these are accumulations of phosphorylated tau proteins stained with antibodies, indicating damage to the nervous tissue

Further analysis made it possible to confirm that the damage was caused precisely by the collision: having studied the prefrontal cortex of the brain of a male musk ox, scientists revealed an increased content of tau protein tangles in it, especially near the surface of the cortex.

At the same time, there was no such accumulation in a person with Alzheimer’s disease: tau proteins are distributed in the brain tissue more evenly and over a larger area.

Studying brain sections of an old female musk ox led the researchers to an unexpected conclusion: the concentration of tau proteins in her brain tissue was almost 20 times higher than that of a male, and five times higher than that of another female.

These results seem to contradict the behavior of female musk oxen, who use their heads less frequently and not so desperately as weapons.

It is possible that the increased concentration of tau proteins indicates that the female skull is less protected than the male: as a result, a blow that the male would not even notice by and large can end very sadly for the female.

In addition to new knowledge about the health of wild animals, the data obtained can help people learn more about how neurodegenerative processes occur in the brain during traumatic brain injury.

Previously, such studies have been carried out almost exclusively on rodents, but mice, although they serve as a popular laboratory object for medical research, have a lissencephalic, smooth brain structure, while musk oxen and rams have a hyrencephalic brain – folded and anatomically much more similar to a human.

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