Naked Mole Rats Can Help Stroke Victims

IN BRIEF:

  • A stroke occurs when a clot in an artery blocks blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
  • Damage to brain tissue can result in a range of complications, disabilities, or even death.
  • Naked mole rats withstand long periods of time in low-oxygen environments, an adaptation to survive in burrows.
  • Scientists are studying the naked mole rat’s ability to tolerate lack of oxygen to decrease brain damage after a stroke

Signs of Stroke

[Graphic by Staff Illustrator]

Joann is an active and independent 64-year-old who experienced an odd numbness in her left hand, but thought nothing of it. But the numbness didn’t go away – rather it spread and her face began to droop on one side. As she tried to speak, all that came out were unintelligible noises. Joann was having a stroke, which strikes someone in the United States every 40 seconds (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2014).

Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death and a primary cause of adult disability in the United States (“What is Stroke?,” 2014). New research on the naked mole rat might offer hope for the millions of people hospitalized annually for stroke.

What is a stroke?
A stroke results from a clot in an artery leading to the brain. Severely decreased blood flow and oxygen deprivation can cause permanent damage to brain tissue. Depending on which area of the brain is affected, different disabilities or degrees of paralysis may result. Joann’s stroke affected her ability to use her tongue and throat muscles, making it hard for her to eat and talk. Even after months of intensive physical and occupational therapy, the spunky 67-year-old did not regain complete control of her facial and throat muscles. Heartbroken that she would have to relinquish her independence, she reluctantly moved to an assisted living facility.

stroke x-ray

An x-ray showing oxygen-loss in one hemisphere of the brain during a stroke. [“MCA Territory Infarct” by Lucien Monfils, (Unedited). License: CC BY 3.0]

Help from hairless rodent
The naked mole rat, a blind, nearly hairless rodent about the size of a mouse that lives underground, might provide the secret to reducing brain damage caused during a stroke. Larson and Park noted this rat’s extreme tolerance to low-oxygen conditions in 2009 (Larson & Park, 2009). They found that neurons in the naked mole rat keep functioning in hypoxia, or the lack of oxygen, for over 30 minutes at a time – up to six times longer than mouse neurons can. Interestingly, this tolerance is a characteristic shared by all mammal fetuses and is retained by human children for the first few years of life.

The researchers hypothesized that naked mole rat neurons go through an extended period of slow or stopped development as an adaptation to living in burrows, a chronically low-oxygen environment. A later study seems to support this hypothesis (Peterson et al., 2012).

Thanks to these wrinkly, buck-toothed rodents, scientists know a lot more about how neurons survive in low-oxygen conditions. Armed with this new knowledge, they are working to find a way to prevent or minimize the impact of stroke, not only on seniors but also the 34% of people hospitalized for stroke who are under the age of 65 (“Stroke Facts,” 2015).
Works Cited

This article was written by cYw36. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff

cYw36

Author: cYw36

Hello there, and welcome to curiousYOUNGwriters! Thanks for stopping by this corner of the interwebs. This is my first time writing for this blog, and I’m so excited to be a part of it. I’ve always been interested in all kinds of science and especially bioengineering and biomedical research; cYw is a way for me to merge this fascination with my passion for writing. When I’m not writing or researching, I’m probably playing my piano or viola, fiddling around with computer programming, or studying for math or physics. Writing for cYw has truly been a unique experience for me, and I hope you enjoy reading my article as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. Feel free to leave a comment below, and enjoy the rest of the site!

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5 Comments

  1. Hi cYw 36,

    I enjoyed your article highlighting one of my favorite research models, the naked mole rat. I used to oversee a colony of these amazing rodents. One of their other uses is in cancer research, since they are resistant to all forms of cancer. These animals are not repugnant, and are fascinating to watch. They have a very-well-developed social system. There is a queen, and different members of the colony have different work functions within the colony. I think of them as a mammalian equivalent to the honey bee. Like other socially networked animals, such as squirrels they have increased longevity, and can live more than 30 years. They are very mild-mannered with their human caretakers, and are very easy to handle.
    I just thought you might want to know a few more fun-facts about these wonderful critters. JA

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    • Thanks for reading and for the interesting information! Naked mole rats certainly are fascinating creatures with the potential to teach us so much about the world and ourselves.

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  2. This was a really interesting article to read! Though perhaps we will somehow need to develop the abilities of these mole rat neurons, as many stroke victims would probably like to have the full function of the brain for longer than 30 minutes…but we’re getting somewhere at least. A job well done on this article!

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    • Thank you for reading my article! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Scientists are currently researching ways to make use of our knowledge of mole rat neurons, and hopefully we will be able to help stroke victims more in the near future.

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  3. Great article! I know a stroke victim who’s right side of the brain was affected so he is paralyzed on the left side. This is Really reader friendly. The article explains stroke extremely well, Yet simplifies it enough to keep readers engaged. Keep up the great work👍🏾!

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