Recent research discovers extraordinary similarities in steroid hormone biology across cephalopods, mice, and humans that can have terrible consequences when disrupted.
Octopuses often undergo a tragic death despite their remarkable intelligence and supernatural capacities to change color and regenerate limbs. After laying a number of eggs, a mother octopus stops eating and wastes away, but she dies by the time the eggs hatch. Some females in captivity appear to purposely speed up this procedure, injuring themselves and twisting their arms into a twisted mess.
The source of this unusual maternal behavior appears to be the optic gland, which is an organ similar to the pituitary gland in mammals. Just how this gland triggered, the gruesome demise coil has been unclear for years. Still, a recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago, the University of Washington, and the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) indicates that the optic gland in maternal octopuses withstands a massive transition in cholesterol metabolism, resulting in dramatic changes in the steroid hormones produced.
“We know cholesterol is important from a dietary perspective, and within different signaling systems in the body too,” announced Z. Yan Wang, Ph.D., the Assistant Professor of Psychology and Biology at the University of Washington and lead author of the study. “It’s involved in everything from the flexibility of cell membranes to production of stress hormones, but it was a big surprise to see it play a part in this life cycle process as well.”