Monday, 1 September 2014

New Clues Revealed about the Longevity of Naked Mole Rats

naked mole rat in a toilet paper
Naked Mole Rat
Credit: UT Health Science Center at San Antonio
The hairless, odd-looking creature in the photo is a naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber).

Among many weird traits, the species also holds the record for longest living rodent. For comparison, the house mouse (Mus musculus) has a maximum lifespan of just 2-3 years, whereas naked mole rats have been recorded to live as much as 32 years!

The exact mechanisms behind the species remarkable longevity have yet to be clearly unveiled, however, it is believed to relate to their very low metabolism which in turn prevents oxidative stress and damage.

Now, a new study by researchers at the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, has revealed another secret on how these strange little critters defy aging.

The scientists reported that a factor in the cells of naked mole rats protects and alters the activity of proteasome, that functions as a garbage disposer for damaged and obsolete proteins. In general, as an organism ages, not only are there more damaged proteins in need of disposal, but the proteasome itself becomes damaged and thus, less efficient in clearing out the damaged proteins, creating a vicious cycle that becomes more prominent with ageing.

"I think this factor is part of an overall process or mechanism by which naked mole rats maintain their protein quality." said first author Karl Rodriguez.

The good news is that the anti-aging factor used by naked mole rats may have future applications in humans.

"Moreover, mouse, human, and yeast proteasomes exposed to the proteasome-depleted, naked mole-rat cytosolic fractions, recapitulate the observed inhibition resistance, and mammalian proteasomes also show increased activity." reads the abstract.
"Enhancement of protein quality, meanwhile, leads to longer life in yeast, worms, fruit flies and naked mole rats" said Dr. Rodriguez.

Who knows, maybe these ugly little creatures may hold the key to extending human lifespan by a few decades or maybe, just maybe, achieving immortality!

Other Strange Adaptations
Naked mole rats, are native to East Africa. Other than their remarkable longegivity, some other unique (considering their mammalian nature) adaptational traits include:
  • Immunity to cancer
  • Lack of pain sensation
  • Eusocial (they form colonies with a queen, workers, soldiers etc)
  • Bizarre Thermoregulation 

Click here if you want to learn more about each of these traits

- Dr. Rodriguez, a San Antonio native who completed both his master's and doctoral degrees at the Health Science Center, is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Rochelle Buffenstein, Ph.D., professor of physiology at the Barshop Institute. For this study, the Buffenstein lab also collaborated with Pawel Osmulski, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular medicine; Susan Weintraub, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry; and Maria Gaczynska, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine.

- Rodriguez KA, Osmulski PA, Pierce A, Weintraub ST, Gaczynska M, & Buffenstein R (2014). A cytosolic protein factor from the naked mole-rat activates proteasomes of other species and protects these from inhibition. Biochimica et biophysica acta PMID: 25018089

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