Immune competence and spleen size scale with colony status in the naked mole-rat

Open Biol. 2022 Apr;12(4):210292. doi: 10.1098/rsob.210292. Epub 2022 Apr 6.


Naked mole-rats (NM-R; Heterocephalus glaber) live in multi-generational colonies with a social hierarchy, and show low cancer incidence and long life-spans. Here we asked if an immune component might underlie such extreme physiology. The largest lymphoid organ is the spleen, which plays an essential role in responding to immunological insults and may participate in combating cancer and slowing ageing. We investigated the anatomy, molecular composition and function of the NM-R spleen using RNA-sequencing and histological analysis in healthy NM-Rs. Spleen size in healthy NM-Rs showed considerable inter-individual variability, with some animals displaying enlarged spleens. In all healthy NM-Rs, the spleen is a major site of adult haematopoiesis under normal physiological conditions. However, myeloid-to-lymphoid cell ratio is increased and splenic marginal zone showed markedly altered morphology when compared to other rodents. Healthy NM-Rs with enlarged spleens showed potentially better anti-microbial profiles and were much more likely to have a high rank within the colony. We propose that the anatomical plasticity of the spleen might be regulated by social interaction and gives immunological advantage to increase the lifespan of higher-ranked animals.

Keywords: adaptive immune system; eusociality; extramedullary haematopoiesis; hyperplasic spleen/splenomegaly; lymphopoiesis; naked mole-rat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Longevity
  • Mole Rats* / anatomy & histology
  • Mole Rats* / genetics
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Spleen*

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.5912760