Humans and fish destress in similar ways, a new study from the University of Haifa has found.The research has found a link between GABA neurotransmitter activity in the human brain and sea anemones in a study that was published in the Nature Ecology and Evolution, according to a Monday press release.
The GABA neurotransmitter is responsible for inhibiting specific brain signals, decreasing nervous system activity.
When GABA neurotransmitters attaches to their receptors in the brain, that reduces stress and anxiety, producing a calming effect.
The goal of the study was to analyze which "biological processes control the development of the sea anemone," and found the similarity with the human brain.
“In the study, we not only discovered that a receptor from the GABABR [GABA] family controls the metamorphosis process in the sea anemone, but also that the molecular path is similar to that found in humans, and in both cases it mediates nervous system functions," stated the researchers.
In other words, the point of similarity is in the timing of the development of the GABA receptors. In both humans (mammals) and sea anemone the receptors develop at initial stages of the nervous system — in humans, that's the in the early stages of the development of the brain.
Sea anemones are a close relative of coral and jellyfish, and "spend most of their time attached to rocks on the sea bottom or on coral reefs," according to National Geographic.
Anemones belong to the biological plant group (the phylum) Cnidaria, which is at least 700 million years old — that is a history that is partly shared by humans, according to this study.
Once other fish get close, the anemones trap them with their venom-filled tentacles.
Beyond highlighting the neurotransmitter similarities between sea anemone and humans, why is this important?
Over 30% of drugs affect the GABA receptor, drugs like ones that treat asthma and heart disease. "This similarity opens up new directions in the field of medicine, where the sea anemone can provide an accessible and simple model for analysis in the development of new medicines”, the researchers added.
The sea anemone has a nervous system that is significantly simpler than the one humans have, and so would be a prize research option in pursuit of the development of new drugs.