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Secret to Naked Mole Rat's Longevity in its Proteins, Study Suggests

Oct 01, 2013 02:40 PM EDT

The naked mole rat's longevity is the envy of the animal kingdom: the subterranean rodent lives about 30 years, staying healthy until the end. The reason, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lies in their proteins, which the researchers say are simply better constructed.

Proteins play an active role in nearly all the functions of an animal's cells; however, before they can get to work, they must first fold into the shape that will enable them to interact with other cell structures. Proteins found in the naked mole rat, researchers from the University of Rochester found, are home to a process that produces essentially perfect proteins.

The study focuses on ribosomes, the site where proteins are created, and began when Vera Gorbunova and Andrei Seluanov applied dye to a sample of ribosome RNA (rRNA) and proceeded to examine it under ultraviolet light. They discovered three dark bands, each representing different concentrations of rRNA molecules. Given that all other animals have just two bands, the discovery of a third suggested some kind of "hidden break" in the rRNA of a naked mole rat.

Because rRNA strands act as ribosomal scaffolds, the researchers decided to further examine the rodent's rRNA scaffold, which they found to be unique.

The rRNA strands split at two locations and dispose of the part in between; however, rather than floating off, the two remaining segments stayed close to each other, acting as a scaffold on which ribosomal proteins could construct functional ribosome, responsible for assembling amino acids to create proteins.

Mistakes occur when an incorrect amino acid squeezes its way in. In the case of the naked mole rat, this happens up to 40 times less than proteins made by mouse cells.

"This is important because proteins with no aberrations help the body to function more efficiently," Seluanov said.

Going forward, the scientists say the next step is to examine whether mouse rRNA, if split in the same way, would lead to the same kind of accuracy.

The researchers ultimately hope to apply the discovery to the creation of pharmaceutical treatments that could modulate protein synthesis in humans, though they admit this is still a ways off.

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