Hemochromatosis in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) is associated with high postprandial plasma insulin levels, suggestive of insulin resistance. In humans, insulin resistance is associated with liver pathologies, including excessive iron deposition and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Dolphin liver tissues, in addition to excessive iron storage, were evaluated for other pathologies supportive of underlying insulin resistance. Archived liver tissues collected postmortem during 1985–2010 from 18 dolphins (median age 27.9 yr, range 0.7–51.4) that were part of the Navy Marine Mammal Program's managed collection were assessed for the presence and severity of hemosiderin deposition, fatty liver disease, and hepatitis. Demographics, clinical pathology values, and percentage weight loss were compared among dolphins with and without these changes. Twelve (66.7%) dolphins had mild to moderate hemosiderin deposition, 7 (38.9%) had mild to severe fatty liver disease, and 11 (61.1%) had mild to moderate hepatitis. Of the 12 dolphins with hemosiderosis, deposition occurred in the Kupffer cells among 11 (91.7%). Dolphins with fatty liver disease were more likely to have higher postprandial serum hyperglycemia (>140 mg/dl), leukocytosis (>11,000 cells/μl), and hyperglobulinemia (>3.5 g/dl). Unlike in many nonhuman terrestrial animals, fatty liver disease was not associated with rapid weight loss or hypoglycemia. Interestingly, there were no significant associations among dolphins with hemosiderosis, fatty liver disease, and hepatitis. This study supports that both hemochromatosis and fatty liver disease were present in the dolphin study population, and histopathology and clinical pathology among these animals suggest a nonhereditary, metabolic etiology.
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