Naked mole-rats maintain healthy skeletal muscle and Complex IV mitochondrial enzyme function into old age

Aging (Albany NY). 2016 Dec 19;8(12):3468-3485. doi: 10.18632/aging.101140.


The naked mole-rat (NMR) Heterocephalus glaber is an exceptionally long-lived rodent, living up to 32 years in captivity. This extended lifespan is accompanied by a phenotype of negligible senescence, a phenomenon of very slow changes in the expected physiological characteristics with age. One of the many consequences of normal aging in mammals is the devastating and progressive loss of skeletal muscle, termed sarcopenia, caused in part by respiratory enzyme dysfunction within the mitochondria of skeletal muscle fibers. Here we report that NMRs avoid sarcopenia for decades. Muscle fiber integrity and mitochondrial ultrastructure are largely maintained in aged animals. While mitochondrial Complex IV expression and activity remains stable, Complex I expression is significantly decreased. We show that aged naked mole-rat skeletal muscle tissue contains some mitochondrial DNA rearrangements, although the common mitochondrial DNA deletions associated with aging in human and other rodent skeletal muscles are not present. Interestingly, NMR skeletal muscle fibers demonstrate a significant increase in mitochondrial DNA copy number. These results have intriguing implications for the role of mitochondria in aging, suggesting Complex IV, but not Complex I, function is maintained in the long-lived naked mole rat, where sarcopenia is avoided and healthy muscle function is maintained for decades.

Keywords: animal models of aging; mitochondria; naked mole-rat; oxidative stress; sarcopenia.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Electron Transport Complex I / physiology
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mole Rats
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiology*
  • Muscular Atrophy


  • Electron Transport Complex IV
  • Electron Transport Complex I