The naked mole rat, a curiously strange, hairless rodent, lives many years longer than any other mouse or rat. Scientists at The University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center San Antonio’s Barshop Institute of Longevity and Aging Studies continue to explore this mystery. On May 2, 2012, a Barshop Institute team reported that the naked mole rat’s cellular machines for protein disposal — called proteasome assemblies — differ in composition from those of other short-lived rodents. The study appeared in the journal PLoS ONE. This is the first report of the molecular mechanisms that underlie the naked mole rat’s superior ability to maintain protein integrity. “More effective removal of damaged proteins within the cell would enable the animal to be able to maintain good function and is likely to contribute to its excellent maintenance of good health well into its third decade of life,” said Rochelle Buffenstein, Ph.D., of the Barshop Institute. Dr. Buffenstein is a professor of physiology and cellular and structural biology in the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center. Dr. Buffenstein and her research team reported in 2009 that the naked mole rat maintains exceptional protein integrity throughout its long and healthy life. In the new study, the team found a greater number of proteasomes and higher protein-disposal activity in naked mole rat liver cells. The Barshop Institute scientists, including lead author Karl Rodriguez, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, and Yael Edrey, a graduate student, also found large numbers of immunoproteasomes in the liver cells — a bit of a surprise because these protein disposers, which remove antigens after presentation in the immune system, are more commonly found in the spleen and thymus.
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