Naked Mole Rat- Coming to a lab near you!

Well, they might not be the cutest of the animal kingdom, but researchers are finding that studies of the naked mole rat may lead to breakthroughs in human health. Nearly blind and hairless, these animals are becoming increasingly popular in research laboratories. Studies of the naked mole rat are drawing increasing interest from the scientific community because, in spite of its fragile appearance, the naked mole rat is seemingly invulnerable.

Naked mole rats are able to live up to 30 years of age and are the longest-living rodents known. This is significantly greater than the life span of most rodents, which is only 2-3 years. Furthermore, naked mole rats undergo this extended aging very successfully. In fact, a study of vascular aging of the naked mole rat showed that the production of reactive oxygen species that normally cause oxidative stress during aging and indictators of apoptotic cell death where not significantly increased as the naked mole rats aged. Meanwhile, a significant increase was seen in the production of reactive oxygen species and indicators of apoptotic cell death in aging rats. These differences alone might not account for the several fold increase in longevity and successful aging in naked mole rats compared to other rats and mice. Thus, the naked mole rat continues to provide an excellent subject for aging research.

Fig. showing increase significant increase in reactive oxygen species production in aging rat and little reactive oxygen species production in the aging naked mole rat (NMR). 


Naked mole rat studies have the potential to offer insights into other areas of human health as well. Because they lack a specific neurotransmitter (substance P), naked mole rats do not feel pain. The naked mole rat does not get cancer, perhaps thanks to a resistance gene (p16) that prevents cells from crowding together and growing uncontrollably. Naked mole rat brains have also been shown to withstand oxygen deprivation for over an hour. These qualities make the naked mole rat useful for pain, cancer, and stroke research.
Twenty years ago, only two research groups were conducting studies such as these on naked mole rats. However, these researchers predict that naked mole rats will become common laboratory test subjects within the next ten years. They may not be model organisms, but the mole rats longevity and hardiness would likely facilitate study. Furthermore, the promise of insight into human health provides powerful incentive for researchers in fields of health and medicine to study the naked mole rat. Maybe these creatures will be coming to a lab near you. Until then, be sure to check out this cool naked mole rat music video brought to you by You Tube and Disney’s Kim Possible:



~ by meyerz on December 2, 2009.

9 Responses to “Naked Mole Rat- Coming to a lab near you!”

  1. This is a really cool post Amanda! did you find anything about how Mole Rat DNA compares to humans? I would be interested in seeing if it is as close, or closer than mice. One thing that really fascinated me is that the rats do not feel pain. That is really, well, weird. There life span is also really fascinating. It could make for some really interesting studies in terms of longevity. I will definitely by interested to see if there is a big push to use mole rats in the coming years. Awesome article Amanda!

  2. Dang, Jamie beat me to it. I was going to ask if the naked mole rat was also used to study aging. It sounds like the perfect model to study cancer and stroke. Can the naked mole rat be made to be transgenic? If so, I think this may beat out mice as the standard lab animal! Also, there are less ethical implications since it can’t process pain. P.S. great picture!

  3. I just checked to see what naked mole rat DNA information was available. I went to the NCBI gene database and it looks like the majority of the information available for the naked mole rat (heterochephalus glabur) is from various MHC genes (which are involved in the immune system), genes involved in visual perception (makes sense since the rodents are blind), and of course ribsomal subunit and mitochonridal sequences (typically used to ID organisms genetically). Here’s the web adress for the database if you are interested:

    From the data avaialable, I think it would be hard to tell how DNA of humans compares to DNA of naked mole rats. Apparantly, in 2008, a group proposed the sequencing of the naked mole rat genome, but there proposal was not funded, so instead, they are just trying to obtain specific gene sequences that may be important in the aging, pain, cancer, etc studies that are currently using the naked mole rat:

    At least, in terms of the molecular pathways involved in cancer, however, it appears that naked mole rats and humans are very similar, perhaps even more so than mice:
    The big difference, at least as far as I know, is that researchers have yet to induce cancer in naked mole rat cells, although this difference probably improves rather than hurts the case for naked mole rat study.

  4. Amanda,

    I found your post very interesting, as I have not yet read a naked-mole rat study in any of my courses or research experience, but you point out that they seem to make a great research subject! I read in (not the most trusted source, but perhaps the most relied upon…Wikipedia) that the lack of pain sensation is only in the skin. Do you know if Wiki has their facts straight on this one?

    Using PubMed, I found an article which describes this lack of substance P in the skin of naked mole rats, and how these rats show no pain response to two known pain stimuli: capsaicin and acids. The rats also apparently lack thermal hyperalgesia, a condition in which inflammation increases pain response to temperature. But…these all seem to be skin-related pain. Here’s a link to the article if you are interested:

    What do you know about it?

  5. Wow, it seems kind of ironic that what brings about longevity for the naked mole rat in the natural world has led it to be exploited by humans for research. When it comes down to it, potentially finding cures to life-threatening diseases that would eventually save hundreds of thousands, millions, or even billions of human lives ends up outweighing the potential harm to other species. I wonder if at some point evolutionary advantages that tend to lead species for being selected for laboratory testing could ever end up getting modified so that the species no longer expresses that trait and can in turn avoid testing. I doubt that lab testing on a particular species would ever reach such a catastrophically high level to facilitate such a response, but it just seems very interesting to think about these things sometimes in a manner that we don’t commonly address them.

  6. This is a really cool blog! So naked mole rats have never shown any cancer whatsoever? That seems very interesting. It seems like more research labs would be using naked mole rats to study caner trends. Being able to isolate the gene that supposedly gives this resistance would be interesting to study and maybe even apply it to human research (sort of what Brad/Jamie/Ben all said).

  7. hi i love the pic of rufus um where did u get the pic of rufus @

  8. The genome of the naked mole rat has now been published – see

  9. Sorry, but the reports say they don’t feel pain due to acid, not no pain whatsoever.

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