Washington: The secret of the East African naked mole rat’s long, robust life has been unravelled. The revolting looking animal — bald and wrinkly with worm-like tails and walrus-style teeth — lives for 30 years and is blessed with large amounts of a protein essential for normal brain function.
Scientists from the US and Israel have found that from infancy to old age, these rats are blessed with large amounts of a protein essential for normal brain function.
“Naked mole rats have the highest level of a growth factor called NRG-1 in the cerebellum, (a brain area that coordinates movements and maintains bodily equilibrium). Its levels are sustained throughout their life, from development through adulthood,” said Yael Edrey, doctoral student at The University of Texas’ San Antonio’s Barshop Institute for longevity and Aging Studies.
The Barshop Institute has the largest colony of naked mole rats in the US, 2,000 rodents scampering around a network of tubes and cages in humid conditions that mimic their natural underground habitat, the journal Aging Cell reported.
Edrey, who led the study, compared lifelong NRG-1 levels across seven species of rodents, from mice and guinea pigs to blind mole rats and Damaraland mole rats, said a university statement.
NRG-1 levels were monitored in naked mole rats at different ages ranging from one day to 26 years. The other six rodent species have maximum life spans of three to 19 years. The research team hypothesized that long-lived species would maintain higher levels of NRG-1 in the Irebellum region of the brain, with simultaneous healthy activity levels.
Among each of the species, the longest-lived members exhibited the highest lifelong levels of NRG-1. The naked mole rat had the most robust and enduring supply.
“In both mice and in humans, NRG-1 levels go down with age,” Edrey said.
The finding, while not directly applicable to humans, has many implications for NRG-1’s role in maintaining neuron (brain cell) integrity. Co-author Dorothee Huchon, senior lecturer at Tel Aviv, was a sabbatical scholar at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Centre (NESCent) in Durham, North Carolina, during the project.