Naked Mole Rat Holds Secret to Longevity: Scientists Uncover Rodent's Proteins

First Posted: Oct 02, 2013 08:27 AM EDT

Who needs the fountain of youth when you have a naked mole rat? It turns out that these rodents may hold the secrets of longevity. Scientists have now uncovered new insights into the animal's longevity, learning more about the better-constructed proteins that keep them healthy.

Naked mole rats live a surprisingly long time for rodents--about 30 years. These creatures don't just live a long time, though; they also remain healthy to the very end. Scientists have long noted naked mole rats' ability to resist cancer. That's why researchers are looking into exactly how these animals manage to live so long.

Proteins are involved in nearly all functions of an animal cell and are essential to all organisms. Before proteins can do their job, though, they need to fold into the appropriate shapes that allow them to connect and interact with other structures in the cell. That's why scientists decided to take a closer look at naked mole rate ribosomes, the site of protein creation in the animal's cells.

While the researchers were working with ribosome RNA (rRNA), they applied dye to a sample. After studying it under ultraviolet light, they found three dark bands which represented concentrations of different rRNA molecules. This, in particular, was surprising; most other animals have just two bands.

The next step was to see if the broken rRNA that the three bands revealed affected the quality of the naked rat proteins. Since rRNA strands act as scaffolds on the ribosome, changing the shape of the scaffold can have a profound effect on the organization of the ribosome parts. In the end, the researchers discovered that the naked mole rat's rRNA scaffold is indeed unique. The rRNA strands split at two specific locations and discard the intervening segment. Instead of floating off on their own, the two remaining pieces from each strand stay close to each other and act as a scaffold on which ribosomal proteins are assembled to create a functional ribosome.

What's the result of this mechanism? It turns out that the proteins made by naked mole rat cells are up to 40 times less likely to contain mistakes than the proteins made by mouse cells. This is extremely important because proteins with no aberrations help the body function more efficiently.

The findings reveal a little bit more about why naked mole rats are so healthy and live for such a long time. In addition, they may help scientists make future discovers about how to make this mechanism applicable in other species.

The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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