BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

The long, can­cer-free lives of naked mole rats are in­trigu­ing. These ro­dents can live for up to 30 years, much longer than most an­i­mals of their size, and are re­sis­tant to many age-re­lated dis­eases. Now, re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Rochester have re­vealed a clue to these an­i­mals’ re­mark­able longevity.

The team wanted to find out if naked mole rats have evolved to elim­i­nate cel­lu­lar senes­cence: a mech­a­nism that pre­vents dam­aged cells from dividing out of con­trol. Senes­cence is a mixed bless­ing, be­cause while it pro­tects against can­cer, it also ac­cel­er­ates age­ing.

“In hu­mans, as in mice, age­ing and can­cer have com­pet­ing in­ter­ests,” said lead au­thor Prof Vera Gor­bunova. “In or­der to pre­vent can­cer, you need to stop cells from dividing. How­ever, to pre­vent age­ing, you want to keep cells dividing in or­der to re­plen­ish tis­sues.”

Sci­en­tists have al­ready tried to re­verse the age­ing process in mice by re­mov­ing senes­cent cells, and it worked – the mice be­came less frail. This sug­gested that elim­i­nat­ing senes­cence might be the key to longevity, one which naked mole rats might al­ready be em­ploy­ing.

Un­ex­pect­edly, the re­searchers found that naked mole rats do ex­hibit senes­cence but it doesn’t work in the same way it does in mice. Senes­cence in mice per­ma­nently stops a cell from dividing, but the cell con­tin­ues to metabolise. Naked mole rats, how­ever, are able to strongly in­hibit this meta­bolic process, re­sist­ing age­ing ef­fects. “It seems small,” said Gor­bunova, “but maybe it’s what’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

Gor­bunova and her team will con­tinue to study these an­i­mals in the hope of find­ing a way keep us healthy into old age. “By study­ing naked mole rats and other long-lived mam­mals, we can find some­thing to bor­row to im­prove hu­man health,” Gor­bunova said.

Naked mole rats in­habit bur­rows in the deserts of east­ern Africa. They have an in­trigu­ing so­cial struc­ture, which is sim­i­lar to that seen in ant or bee colonies

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