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Keywords:

  • naked mole-rat;
  • longevity;
  • cancer resistance;
  • oncogenes;
  • crisis;
  • DNA damage

Summary

The naked mole-rat (NMR, Heterocephalus glaber) is a long-lived mammal in which spontaneous cancer has not been observed. To investigate possible mechanisms for cancer resistance in this species, we studied the properties of skin fibroblasts from the NMR following transduction with oncogenes that cause cells of other mammalian species to form malignant tumors. Naked mole-rat fibroblasts were transduced with a retrovirus encoding SV40 large T antigen and oncogenic RasG12V. Following transplantation of transduced cells into immunodeficient mice, cells rapidly entered crisis, as evidenced by the presence of anaphase bridges, giant cells with enlarged nuclei, multinucleated cells, and cells with large number of chromosomes or abnormal chromatin material. In contrast, similarly transduced mouse and rat fibroblasts formed tumors that grew rapidly without crisis. Crisis was also observed after > 40 population doublings in SV40 TAg/Ras-expressing NMR cells in culture. Crisis in culture was prevented by additional infection of the cells with a retrovirus encoding hTERT (telomerase reverse transcriptase). SV40 TAg/Ras/hTERT-expressing NMR cells formed tumors that grew rapidly in immunodeficient mice without evidence of crisis. Crisis could also be induced in SV40 TAg/Ras-expressing NMR cells by loss of anchorage, but after hTERT transduction, cells were able to proliferate normally following loss of anchorage. Thus, rapid crisis is a response of oncogene-expressing NMR cells to growth in an in vivo environment, which requires anchorage independence, and hTERT permits cells to avoid crisis and to achieve malignant tumor growth. The unique reaction of NMR cells to oncogene expression may form part of the cancer resistance of this species.