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The Somatosensory World of the African Naked Mole-Rat

Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB,volume 1319)

Abstract

The naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is famous for its longevity and unusual physiology. This eusocial species that lives in highly ordered and hierarchical colonies with a single breeding queen, also discovered secrets enabling somewhat pain-free living around 20 million years ago. Unlike most mammals, naked mole-rats do not feel the burn of chili pepper’s active ingredient, capsaicin, nor the sting of acid. Indeed, by accumulating mutations in genes encoding proteins that are only now being exploited as targets for new pain therapies (the nerve growth factor receptor TrkA and voltage-gated sodium channel, NaV1.7), this species mastered the art of analgesia before humans evolved. Recently, we have identified pain-insensitivity as a trait shared by several closely related African mole-rat species. In this chapter we will show how African mole-rats have evolved pain insensitivity as well as discussing what the proximate factors may have been that led to the evolution of pain-free traits.

  • Evolution
  • Pain
  • Nociception
  • Ion channels
  • African mole-rats
figure a

Photo Credit: Thomas Park

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Fig. 7.1
Fig. 7.2
Fig. 7.3
Fig. 7.4

Abbreviations

AITC:

Allyl isothiocyanate

ASIC :

Acid-sensing ion channel

CGRP :

Calcitonin gene-related peptide

CIP :

Congenital insensitivity to pain

DRG :

Dorsal root ganglia

GPCR :

G-protein coupled receptor

NALCN :

Sodium leak channel non-selective protein

NaV:

voltage-gated sodium channel

NGF:

Nerve growth factor

NK1R :

neurokinin-1 receptor

PRDM12 :

PRDI-BF1 and RIZ homology domain- containing protein 12

SP :

Substance P

TG:

Trigeminal ganglion

TRPA1 :

transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily A member 1 channel

TRPV1 :

transient receptor potential vanilloid 1 channel

TWIK1 :

Two pore-domain Weakly Inward rectifying K+ channel

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Acknowledgements

The work in the authors laboratories has been supported by the following agencies: ERC advanced grants to GRL (AdG 789128 and AdG 294678), a National Science Foundation (grant 1655494) to T.J.P. and a CRUK Grant (C56829/A22053) to ESS.

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Lewin, G.R., Smith, E.S.J., Reznick, J., Debus, K., Barker, A.J., Park, T.J. (2021). The Somatosensory World of the African Naked Mole-Rat. In: Buffenstein, R., Park, T.J., Holmes, M.M. (eds) The Extraordinary Biology of the Naked Mole-Rat. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, vol 1319. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-65943-1_7

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