The Life and Times of Naked Mole Rats

Posted on September 23, 2012

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have reported new findings about naked mole-rats in PLoS One. In an experiment reported in PLoS One, researchers placed naked mole-rats in a system of cages in which some areas contained air with acidic fumes. The naked mole rats did not avoid chambers filled with moderately high concentrations of acetic acid in the lab. This level would cause pain in other species. The concentrations did trigger behavioral aversion in other laboratory rodents.

In the wild, naked mole rats have adapted to live in conditions humans would find intolerable. They live in very crowded burrows in eastern Africa, where they are considered a pest. Carbon dioxide builds up to levels in these burrows that would be toxic for other mammals. The air also becomes highly acidic.

Naked mole rats never get cancer, are resistant to low oxygen and they don't feel certain types of pain, including chronic pain. Thomas Park, professor of biological sciences at UIC and principal investigator of the study, believes the naked mole rats may offer clues to relieving pain in humans and other animals. Park says much of the lingering pain of an injury is caused by acidification of the injured tissue.

Park said in a statement, "Acidification is an unavoidable side-effect of injury. Studying an animal that feels no pain from an acidified environment should lead to new ways of alleviating pain in humans."

The researchers at University of Illinois at Chicago also believe the rodents may yield clues to keeping brain cells alive after a heart attack or stroke. The researchers shared this great video, which explains how the amazing rodents live in the wild and in the lab. In the lab, the naked mole rats have designated different compartments as living chambers, kitchen and toilet. Only one female in a naked mole rat colony breeds, the queen. Take a look:

More from Science Space & Robots