Evaporative cooling and vasodilation mediate thermoregulation in naked mole-rats during normoxia but not hypoxia

J Therm Biol. 2019 Aug;84:228-235. doi: 10.1016/j.jtherbio.2019.07.011. Epub 2019 Jul 8.


Naked mole-rats are among the most hypoxia-tolerant mammals but have a poor thermoregulatory capacity due to their lack of insulating fur and fat, and small body size. In acute hypoxia, naked mole-rat body temperature (Tb) decreases to ambient temperature (Ta) but the mechanisms that underlie this thermoregulatory response are unknown. We hypothesized 1) that naked mole-rat blood vessels vasodilate during hypoxia to shunt heat toward the body surface and/or 2) that they augment heat loss through evaporative cooling. Using open-flow respirometry (indirect calorimetry) we explored metabolic and thermoregulatory strategies of naked mole-rats exposed to hypoxia (7% O2 for 1 h) at two relative humidities (RH; 50 or 100% water saturation), and in two Ta's (25 and 30 °C), alone, and following treatment with the vasoconstrictor angiotensin II (ANGII). We found that Tb and metabolic rate decreased in hypoxia across all treatment groups but that neither RH nor ANGII effected either variable in hypoxia. Conversely, both Tb and metabolic rate were reduced in 100% RH or by ANGII treatment in normoxia at 25 °C, and therefore the absolute change in both variables with the onset of hypoxia was reduced when vasodilation or evaporative cooling were prevented. We conclude that naked mole-rats employ evaporative cooling and vasodilation to thermoregulate in normoxia and in 25 °C but that neither mechanism is involved in thermoregulatory changes during acute hypoxia. These findings suggest that NMRs may employ passive strategies such as reducing thermogenesis to reduce Tb in hypoxia, which would support metabolic rate suppression.

Keywords: Angiotensin II; Hypoxic metabolic response; Metabolic rate; Passive cooling; Relative humidity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Mole Rats / physiology*
  • Vasodilation / physiology*