The typical naked mole rat lives 25 to 30 years, showing little decline in activity, reproductive capacity, and cognitive ability.
Scientists from the United States and Israel think they’ve found a clue to the secret of the East African rodent’s long life: Throughout their lives, naked mole 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,” said Yael Edrey, doctoral student at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, who notes that the growth factor’s “levels are sustained throughout their life, from development through adulthood.”
Edrey is the lead author of research that compared lifelong NRG-1 levels across seven species of rodents, from mice and guinea pigs to blind mole rats and Damaraland mole rats.
The researchers monitored NRG-1 levels in naked mole rats at different ages ranging from 1 day to 26 years. The other six rodent species have maximum life spans of 3 to 19 years.
The research team hypothesized that long-lived species would maintain higher levels of NRG-1 in the cerebellum, which coordinates movements and maintains bodily equilibrium.
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, according to Edrey, who noted that, “in both mice and in humans, NRG-1 levels go down with age.”
“The strong correlation between this protective brain factor and maximum life span highlights a new focus for aging research, further supporting earlier findings that it is not the amount of oxidative damage an organism encounters that determines species life span but rather that the protective mechanisms may be more important,” said senior author Rochelle Buffenstein, Ph.D.
The research is described in a recent issue of Aging Cell.