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The Oldest Rodent

July 16, 2012

Naked mole rats are the ugly ducklings of medical research. Now a new study suggests that they have an anti-aging potion in their bag of survival tricks.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The oldest rodent…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

An ugly, bucktoothed rodent called the naked mole rat hardly ages and rarely gets sick. Understanding the key to the creature’s long, healthy life could lead to new treatments for human aging. Comparative biologist Rochelle Buffenstein of the University of Texas Health Science Center says most young animals have high levels of a protein called neuregulin, which aids in brain development. In most species, though, neuregulin levels drop with age. She and her colleagues have now discovered that naked mole rats have elevated levels of neuregulin throughout their lives.

ROCHELLE BUFFENSTEIN (UT Health Science Center, San Antonio):

Unlike every other species studied to date, neuregulin levels are maintained at high levels in this species, well into old age.

HIRSHON:

She says the protein probably protects the adult naked mole rat’s brain from cognitive decline. It’s not yet known whether neuregulin levels can be safely boosted in humans. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

This ugly rodent thumbs its nose at cancer and defies aging. (Roman Klementschitz/Wikimedia Commons)