Naked mole rats resemble pink, wrinkly, saber-toothed sausages and would never win a beauty contest, even among other rodents. But these natives of East Africa are the champs for longevity among rodents, living nine times longer than similar-sized mice. Not only do they have an extraordinarily long lifespan, but they maintain good health for most of it and show remarkable resistance to cancer.
Researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio are studying mechanisms that enable the prolonged good health and slowed aging of naked mole rats in their large colony at the university’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies. In the March 3 print edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientists report on another unusual feature of the animals — tissues of the naked mole rat are remarkably efficient at discarding damaged proteins and thereby maintaining stable, high-quality proteins.
“Naked mole rats don’t show the usual deterioration of aging, such as menopause or decline in brain function,” said paper co-author Rochelle Buffenstein, Ph.D., professor of physiology at the Barshop Institute and one of the world’s leading experts on aging in naked mole rats. “They demonstrate a healthy longevity that all of us would like to emulate.”
In most organisms, proteins are tagged for destruction, and a garbage disposer, called the “proteasome,” picks up the damaged ones and recycles their amino acids for new protein formation. The research team found very low levels of tagged proteins for destruction in naked mole rats, indicating they have better-quality protein as well as more efficient removal of damaged proteins. The result is the damaged ones do not accumulate and cause havoc in cells. “We now believe the level of protein damage in the naked mole rats is not as critical as their ability to dispose of the insults efficiently,” said the paper’s senior author, Asish Chaudhuri, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry at the Barshop Institute.
The scientists compared naked mole rat tissues to those of laboratory mice. The specimens from naked mole rats were far superior at handling stress-induced damaged proteins.
“It’s been suggested that damaged proteins clump into globs that are toxic to cells, and these globs are believed to be very important in age-related neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Lou Gehrig’s diseases,” said the lead author, Viviana Perez, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow at the Barshop Institute. “Finding a way to emulate the naked mole rats’ ability to effectively dispense of damaged proteins might lead to drugs to treat these diseases one day.”
The researchers’ next step is to determine whether tissues of other animals that are long-lived, such as certain birds, also possess a similar ability to efficiently dispose of damaged proteins. Eventually, tissues from primates and even humans could be studied to test the universality of “this protein-disposing theory,” Dr. Chaudhuri said.
“Understanding how naked mole rats better control protein quality may yield important insights for how we as humans can sustain good health,” Dr. Buffenstein said. “We might also learn something about treating age-associated degenerative diseases. The naked mole rats clearly hold the clues to successful aging.”
The above story is based on materials provided by University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
- Perez et al. Protein stability and resistance to oxidative stress are determinants of longevity in the longest-living rodent, the naked mole-rat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; 106 (9): 3059 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0809620106
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