Naked mole rats (NMRs; Heterocephalus glaber) are highly adapted, subterranean, eusocial rodents from semiarid regions of the eastern horn of Africa and the longest-living rodent known with a maximum life span of up to 30 years. They are a unique model for aging research due to their physiology, extreme longevity, and, when compared to mice and rats, resistance to cancer. Published surveys of disease in NMRs are sparse. Captive colonies in zoological collections provide an opportunity to monitor spontaneous disease over time in a seminatural environment. This retrospective study describes common lesions of a zoo population over a 15-year period during which 138 adult NMRs were submitted for gross and histologic evaluation. Of these, 61 (44.2%) were male, 77 (55.8%) female, 45 (32.6%) died, and 93 (67.4%) were euthanized. The most frequent cause of death or reason for euthanasia was conspecific trauma (bite wounds) and secondary complications. Some common histologic lesions and their prevalence were renal tubular mineralization (82.6%), hepatic hemosiderosis (64.5%), bite wounds (63.8%), chronic progressive nephropathy (52.9%), and calcinosis cutis (10.1%). In sum, 104 (75.4%) NMRs had more than one of the most prevalent histologic lesions. No malignant neoplasms were noted; however, there was a case of renal tubular adenomatous hyperplasia with nuclear atypia and compression that in rats is considered a preneoplastic lesion. This retrospective study confirms the NMR's relative resistance to cancer in spite of development of other degenerative diseases and highlights the utility of zoological databases for baseline pathological data on nontraditional animal models.
Keywords: Heterocephalus glaber; aging; animal model; calcinosis; hemosiderosis; naked mole rat; neoplasia; trauma.