African Naked Mole-Rats Demonstrate Extreme Tolerance to Hypoxia and Hypercapnia.


Naked mole-rats are extremely tolerant to low concentrations of oxygen (hypoxia) and high concentrations of carbon dioxide (hypercapnia), which is consistent with the environment that they inhabit. Naked mole-rats combine subterranean living with living in very densely populated colonies where oxygen becomes depleted and carbon dioxide accumulates. In the laboratory, naked mole-rats fully recover from 5 h exposure to 5% O2 and 5 h exposure to 80% CO2, whereas both conditions are rapidly lethal to similarly sized laboratory mice. During anoxia (0% O2) naked mole-rats enter a suspended animation-like state and switch from aerobic metabolism of glucose to anaerobic metabolism of fructose. Additional fascinating characteristics include that naked mole-rats show intrinsic brain tolerance to anoxia; a complete lack of hypoxia-induced and CO2-induced pulmonary edema; and reduced aversion to high concentrations of CO2 and acidic fumes. Here we outline a constellation of physiological and molecular adaptations that correlate with the naked mole-rat's hypoxic/hypercapnic tolerance and which offer potential targets for ameliorating pathological conditions in humans, such as the damage caused during cerebral ischemia.