The naked mole rat does not age and does not get sick with age. Queens fight each other to the death for their territories, but otherwise could and do live for years. At least two factors contribute to their longevity – a lower body temperature and a lower metabolic rate. For the first time, a research group from the Institute of Gerontology in Kiev, headed by Prof. Khachik Muradian, and Prof. Vadim Fraifeld
’s Lab for the Biology of Aging at BGU have managed to replicate those conditions in lab mice. The research has intriguing implications for increasing longevity and coping with major pathologies in humans as well.
It is already well-known that the best way to increase longevity in cold-blooded animals is to decrease body temperature and metabolic intensity. There are a couple of warm-blooded animals that manage to do the same thing – the bowhead whale and the naked mole rat. While it is impossible to bring a whale into the lab, the naked mole rat is about the size of a regular lab mouse. Mammals of similar size have similar life spans. However, a naked mole rat lives about eight times longer than a mouse. Why?
According to the scientists, the naked mole rat's longevity and negligible senescence are attributed to a great extent to the atmosphere in their burrows. Their burrows are poorly ventilated, which means oxygen levels are low and carbon dioxide levels are high. This may cause the reduction in the naked mole rat's body temperature by 3-4 degrees as compared to mice and slow its metabolism significantly.
They subjected laboratory mice to the same conditions found in naked mole rat burrows and succeeded where others before them had failed: they reduced the mouse's body temperature and metabolic intensity for weeks and months as opposed to days. As one of the results, the mice voluntarily consumed less food, which is one of the well-known factors that leads to increased longevity.
While the Ukrainian and Israeli scientists’ success constitutes a scientific achievement all on its own, this research has intriguing future implications for human longevity.
"At one point in history, the earth contained much lower levels of oxygen and higher levels of carbon dioxide. There is still some memory in our cells of that period and therefore it should be possible in the future to induce such a state for longer periods," the researchers state. Moreover, they believe such a state would be an additional tool for fighting the obesity epidemic, diabetes and perhaps diseases like cancer as well.
The research was supported in part by the Fund in Memory of Dr. Amir Abramovich.
Tolstun DA, Knyazer A, Tushynska TV, Dubiley TA, Bezrukov VV, Fraifeld VE, Muradian KK. Metabolic remodelling of mice by hypoxic-hypercapnic environment: imitating the naked mole-rat. Biogerontology. 2020 Apr;21(2):143-153.