Naked mole-rat transcriptome signatures of socially suppressed sexual maturation and links of reproduction to aging

BMC Biol. 2018 Aug 2;16(1):77. doi: 10.1186/s12915-018-0546-z.


Background: Naked mole-rats (NMRs) are eusocially organized in colonies. Although breeders carry the additional metabolic load of reproduction, they are extremely long-lived and remain fertile throughout their lifespan. This phenomenon contrasts the disposable soma theory of aging stating that organisms can invest their resources either in somatic maintenance, enabling a longer lifespan, or in reproduction, at the cost of longevity. Here, we present a comparative transcriptome analysis of breeders vs. non-breeders of the eusocial, long-lived NMR vs. the polygynous and shorter-lived guinea pig (GP).

Results: Comparative transcriptome analysis of tissue samples from ten organs showed, in contrast to GPs, low levels of differentiation between sexes in adult NMR non-breeders. After transition into breeders, NMR transcriptomes are markedly sex-specific, show pronounced feedback signaling via gonadal steroids, and have similarities to reproductive phenotypes in African cichlid fish, which also exhibit social status changes between dominant and subordinate phenotypes. Further, NMRs show functional enrichment of status-related expression differences associated with aging. Lipid metabolism and oxidative phosphorylation-molecular networks known to be linked to aging-were identified among most affected gene sets. Remarkably and in contrast to GPs, transcriptome patterns associated with longevity are reinforced in NMR breeders.

Conclusion: Our results provide comprehensive and unbiased molecular insights into interspecies differences between NMRs and GPs, both in sexual maturation and in the impact of reproduction on longevity. We present molecular evidence that sexual maturation in NMRs is socially suppressed. In agreement with evolutionary theories of aging in eusocial organisms, we have identified transcriptome patterns in NMR breeders that-in contrast to the disposable soma theory of aging-may slow down aging rates and potentially contribute to their exceptional long life- and healthspan.

Keywords: Aging; Eusociality; Naked mole-rat; RNA-seq; Reproduction; Sexual maturation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Mole Rats / genetics*
  • Reproduction / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA / methods
  • Sexual Maturation / genetics*
  • Transcriptome*