Extraordinary life spans of naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber)


*All correspondence to: P. W. Sherman E-mail: pws6@cornell.edu


Senescence is the internal physiological deterioration that accompanies advancing age. Evolutionary hypotheses predict that rates of senescence should vary directly with extrinsic mortality and inversely with fecundity. If so, naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) should live a long time (senesce slowly) because in nature they inhabit heavily protected burrows, and large, old breeding females make disproportionate reproductive contributions. In addition H. glaber has an exceptionally low metabolic rate, which may reduce oxidative stress. We have maintained naked mole-rats in captivity since 1974. Here we report that individuals can live a very long time: many are alive after more than 20 years and some are 26 years old (and counting). Although we do not yet know how long naked mole-rats can live, they already are older than the maximum longevity of all but one of 156 rodent species that have been maintained in captivity from birth to death.