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Negligible senescence in the longest living rodent, the naked mole-rat: insights from a successfully aging species

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Aging refers to a gradual deterioration in function that, over time, leads to increased mortality risk, and declining fertility. This pervasive process occurs in almost all organisms, although some long-lived trees and cold water inhabitants reportedly show insignificant aging. Negligible senescence is characterized by attenuated age-related change in reproductive and physiological functions, as well as no observable age-related gradual increase in mortality rate. It was questioned whether the longest living rodent, the naked mole-rat, met these three strict criteria. Naked mole-rats live in captivity for more than 28.3 years, ∼9 times longer than similar-sized mice. They maintain body composition from 2 to 24 years, and show only slight age-related changes in all physiological and morphological characteristics studied to date. Surprisingly breeding females show no decline in fertility even when well into their third decade of life. Moreover, these animals have never been observed to develop any spontaneous neoplasm. As such they do not show the typical age-associated acceleration in mortality risk that characterizes every other known mammalian species and may therefore be the first reported mammal showing negligible senescence over the majority of their long lifespan. Clearly physiological and biochemical processes in this species have evolved to dramatically extend healthy lifespan. The challenge that lies ahead is to understand what these mechanisms are.

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Peter Hornsby, Pedro de Magalhaes and an anonymous reviewer are sincerely thanked for their constructive comments on this manuscript. Author gratefully acknowledges the contributions by his CCNY students (Yael Edrey, Yael Grun Kramer, Mario Pinto and Ting Yang) and collaborators (Dianna Casper, Asish Chaudhuri Anthony Hulbert, Jenny Jarvis, Karl Jepsen, Justine Salton, Carl Terranova). The animal care staff at the University of Cape Town, Medical School of the University of the Witwatersrand, and City College of New York is sincerely thanked for their dedicated and prolonged care of these unusual colonies. Funding from the NIH/NIA is gratefully acknowledged (AG-022891).

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Correspondence to Rochelle Buffenstein.

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Communicated by I.D. Hume.

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Buffenstein, R. Negligible senescence in the longest living rodent, the naked mole-rat: insights from a successfully aging species. J Comp Physiol B 178, 439–445 (2008).

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