Blog: Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

Naked Mole Rats: Anti-Aging Defense

Naked Mole Rat at Brookfield Zoo

As a veterinarian here at Brookfield Zoo, I get to work with pretty amazing animals every day.  Many of them are huge and charismatic, allowing them to easily inspire millions of people every year to help conserve our natural world.  Others species are equally amazing, but we have to work a little harder for them to be inspirational.  Cute and cuddly are not words I’ve heard used often to describe naked mole rats, but they are incredible in their own way.  Naked mole rats, or "NMR" as we call them, are native eastern Africa and live in large colonies in subterranean burrows.  They are one of only a handful of eusocial mammalian species.  That means they have a single breeding “queen”, a handful of “breeding males”, and many subordinate “workers” – very similar to colonial insects like bees, ants, and termites.  They are well adaptive to harsh environments, living in tunnels that can be 6 feet underground with low oxygen levels. 
Even more astonishing though are their excellent anti-aging defenses.  Compared to most rodents, NMR live very long lives, with lifespans up to 9 times longer than a regular mouse.  NMR sustain minimal age-related changes in body health and appear to simply age at a slower rate.  The development of many medical problems that occur in older animals, such as cancer, are nearly non-existent in this species.  There is a lot of interest in better understanding this species, with the hope NMR may provide clues into the prevention of disease and age-related problems in other species.
Here at the Chicago Zoological Society, we provide our animals with the best care and welfare in the world to allow them to live long and healthy lives.  However, death is an inevitable natural event, even in the long-lived NMR.  However, a tremendous amount of information can still be gained after death that can help improve medical care for all animals.  Every animal that passes away here at the zoo receives a full necropsy examination (animal autopsy) by a team of expert veterinary pathologists who are part of a collaborative program with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.  Veterinarians on that team recently published results of a study that reviewed the histologic findings from our NMR colony over the past 15 years (histopathology is the process of looking at individual tissue samples under the microscope and is a crucial component to any necropsy).  This study focused on evaluating geriatric, age-related lesions and disease processes affecting the kidney.  The results provide a foundation for others to better understand and study common age-related diseases in this nontraditional animal model, something that may eventually benefit the health of all of us. 
It’s remarkable to think that a naked rat that lives underground in Africa may someday help improve the health of aging people, pets, and wildlife.  Hopefully it will serve to inspire people to help protect animals and conserve the natural world that surrounds us all.
Dr. Mike Adkesson
Vice President, Clinical Medicine


Posted: 12/17/2015 4:36:17 PM by Steve Pine Filed under: Africa, naked mole rat, queen, rodent, veterinarian

Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

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