University of Rochester Researchers Extend Mice Lifespan by Over 4% by Transferring Longevity Gene from Naked Mole Rats

Naked Mole Rats and Longevity

Once again, the focus is on the naked mole rat, an animal known for its extreme longevity and resistance to age-related diseases such as cancer. A study by geneticists from the University of Rochester involved transferring a longevity gene from naked mole rats to mice. They demonstrated that this longevity gene also helps extend the lifespan of these mice. Published in the journal Nature, this research paves the way for revolutionary gene therapy that could potentially extend human health and lifespan.

Anti Aging Before After

Anti Aging Before After

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Naked mole rats are rodent species about the size of a rat, with exceptional longevity for rodents: they can live up to 41 years, nearly 10 times longer than similar-sized rodents. Unlike many other species, naked mole rats do not frequently contract diseases and seem especially protected against neurodegeneration, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and cancer, even as they age.

Groundbreaking Gene Transfer Study

This is the first time scientists have attempted to transfer a longevity gene, in this case from the naked mole rat to mice, and have shown that this transfer can increase the lifespan of the recipients. The achievement is based on the discovery of the role played by the HMW-HA gene, responsible for the naked mole rat’s unusual disease resistance. Compared to mice and humans, naked mole rats have about 10 times more HMW-HA in their bodies. Indeed, when researchers deactivate the HMW-HA gene in naked mole rat cells, these cells become more susceptible to tumor formation.

By introducing this specific gene from the naked mole rat into mice, these scientists open up new, unexpected possibilities for combating aging and extending human life. The lead authors, Vera Gorbunova, a professor of biology and medicine, and Andrei Seluanov, a professor of biology, both at Rochester, comment on this work: “We have demonstrated proof of concept of exporting a longevity mechanism between mammals.” A gene responsible for the production of high molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HMW-HA): the transfer was carried out here from a naked mole rat to mice, with the following results:

  • An improvement in health and a lifespan increase of over 4% in mice;
  • The cancer resistance mechanism, well documented in the naked mole rat, also seems to be exported to the mice.
  • While all mammals have the hyaluronan synthase 2 gene, the naked mole rat’s version appears enhanced to favor stronger gene expression.
  • Mice equipped with the naked mole rat’s gene version benefit from better protection against spontaneous tumors and chemically induced skin cancer.
  • These mice also have better overall health and live longer than untreated mice.
  • As they age, these mice show less inflammation in different parts of their body and maintain a healthier gut.

Implications and Future Research

Further research is needed to determine exactly why and how this version of the HMW-HA gene brings such beneficial effects. The researchers hypothesize a particular ability of the gene to directly regulate the immune system. They hope to have “found” a new fountain of youth for humans, namely a gene therapy based on HMW-HA to improve lifespan and reduce inflammation-related diseases in humans.

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Two lines of research are already underway: trying to slow down the degradation of HMW-HA in humans or enhance its synthesis. “We have already identified molecules that slow down the degradation of hyaluronan and are testing them in pre-clinical trials.”

Final Thoughts: Practical Implications for Aging

The study’s findings open a new chapter in anti-aging research. Translating the longevity traits of naked mole rats into potential human treatments offers a realistic prospect for combating age-related diseases. While the application to human health is still a distant goal, this research lays the groundwork for future advancements in extending healthy human lifespans.

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References

Zhang, Z., Tian, X., Lu, J.Y. et al. Increased hyaluronan by naked mole-rat Has2 improves healthspan in mice. Nature 621, 196–205 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06463-0

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