Thursday, May 1, 2014

Naked Mole Rats and Fighting Degenerative Disease

This post was authored by @MikeMadarasz of the Institute for International Research

Did you know that the naked mole rat holds the record for the longest living rodent?  It’s a nice piece of trivia, yes, but the longevity of this animal may actually provide us clues about fighting degenerative diseases such as Alzheimers and Parkinsons.  Naked mole rats have been known to live for as long as 31 years—an incredible age based on their size.  In comparison, mice live four years at the most.  This is something that has piqued the interest of scientists for years.

A recent study from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio has made connections between the extended lifespan of these rodents and the chaperone protein HSP25.  HSP25, as well as other chaperone proteins, serve as a sort of protein audit team by quickly eliminating those that are incorrectly produced or defective.  These flawed proteins are capable of aggregating and forming “clumps”, which have been associated with degenerative diseases.  

Recently, researchers have been able to definitively correlate the presence of HSP25 in tissue with longevity.  Says Karl Rodriguez, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health Science, "If we can understand how HSP25 levels are regulated, what it’s function is and how it contributes to cell health, we might find ways to use this protein to combat devastating age-related diseases."  Rodriguez cites animals with higher levels HSP25 as being more “primed to react” to faulty proteins and in turn, maintain cell health.  Finding ways to increase the human equivalent of the HSP25 protein (HSP27) could potentially help prevent these diseases.

Said Rochelle Buffenstein, Ph.D, the study’s senior investigator, "There's still a lot we can learn from extremely long-lived animals. Use of such models enables us to evaluate whether nature—through millions of years of evolutionary experimentation—has already evolved the best way to maintain cellular integrity and thereby delay and attenuate the aging process. HSP25 may be one such evolved protein."

Read the full press release here.

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