Naked mole-rats may help in finding treatments for arthritis
Deeply ugly creatures resistant to acid response
With their hairless, wrinkled bodies, prominent buck teeth and eyes that have appeared to have been an after thought, the naked mole-rat appears to be one of God's least beautiful creatures. However, their unique physiology may pave a way for treatments for painful inflammatory arthritis. The cold-blooded mammals are good candidates for the study because of their unique insensitivity to acid-induced pain.
With their hairless, wrinkled bodies, prominent buck teeth and eyes that have appeared to have been an after thought, the naked mole-rat appears as one of God's least beautiful creatures.
"Exposure to high levels of carbon dioxide in turn would evoke acidosis, but the naked mole-rat has evolved in a way to manage this acid load and to be able to live in acidic environments, which for most other rodents in the world would be uninhabitable," neuroscientist Ewan St. John Smith, the lead author of the study says.
Most mammals, including humans, when they are exposed to acid, special channels at the tips of sensory neurons, called nociceptors are alerted. Once these nociceptors are activated, they transmit a signal along the spinal cord to the brain.
But among naked mole-rats, although acid triggers the nociceptors, their pain-sensing neurons contain proteins with genetic mutations that prevent neurons from firing off pain signals in response to acid.
Inflammatory disorders, such as arthritis, are normally associated with acidosis.
"If a drug could now be developed which acts on these particular proteins on the sensory neurons, you could limit the ability of acid to cause pain in patients with arthritis and other inflammatory disorders," Smith said.
An estimated 50 million U.S. adults, or about one in five report doctor-diagnosed arthritis. That number is projected to increase to 67 million by 2030.
"We can learn a lot from comparative physiology. By understanding how an animal adapts to its environment, this will teach us a lot of our own biological system," neuroscientists Gary R. Lewin, one of the authors of the study says.
The buck-tooth rodent has been found to have an unusually long life span and can live three years longer than other rodents and is resistant to cancer.
Most recently, scientists sequenced and analyzed the entire genome, which Smith and his colleagues hope to be able to use for their next phase of research.
"It's cool to know how things work, especially when things don't work as you expect them to," Smith said.
© 2011, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
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Keywords: Naked mole-rats, arthritis, medical research
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