The naked mole rat, pictured below, apart from its ravishing good looks, has also displayed another endearing quality. It appears that these little mammals outlive their common rat cousins by as much as ten times. Not only do they live long, but they appear to age well showing little decline in their health and lifestyle throughout their life. This longevity has been the focus of a recent study by researchers in the U.S. and Israel. Their findings are published in the journal Aging Cell.
Naked mole rats are primarily found in Southeastern Ethiopia, eastern Kenya, and Somalia. They display behaviors unlike any other mammal as they live in underground colonies and exhibit behaviors usually observed in ants or bees. For instance, they have one breeding queen, and seem to have a hierarchical system of workers.
A Unique Family Trait
Dr. Dorothee Huchon of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology, along with Prof. Rochelle Buffenstein of the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, and Dr. Yael Edrey of the City College of New York are working together to prove whether the mammal’s high levels of a neuroprotecting protein, NRG-1, could be the reason for their longevity.
It appears that in this study, several types of rodents were tested for the existence of NRG-1. What they discovered was that the higher the levels of NRG-1 in adults, the longer the lifespan of the rodent. The naked mole rat not only had the highest levels of NRG-1, it also maintained those levels well throughout its lifetime. NRG-1 is a protein responsible for protecting neurons in the brain. They are found in the cerebellum which is responsible for motor control. Having such high levels of NRG-1 in the brain for so long may explain why the mole rat not only lives long, but also maintains an active lifestyle throughout its life.
Impact on Human Aging
Genetically, naked mole rats are about 85% similar to humans. This study is the first step in determining how NRG-1 affects aging and may someday lead to medical applications in humans.
For more information on naked mole rats, the Louisville Zoo has a great resource at http://www.louisvillezoo.org/collection/animals/MammalFS/Naked-Mole-Rat.pdf.