University of Illinois at Chicago Associate Professor John Larson and Professor Thomas Park discovered adult naked mole rat brain tissue can withstand extreme hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, for periods exceeding a half-hour -- much longer than brain tissue from other mammals.
The professors said their findings may yield clues for better treatment of brain injuries associated with heart attack, stroke and accidents in which the brain is starved of oxygen.
Larson and Park studied African naked mole rats -- small rodents that live about six feet underground in colonies of up to 300 members. The air they breathe is so foul it would be fatal or lead to irreversible brain damage in any other mammal, the researchers said.
But the scientists said the naked mole rats showed systemic hypoxia adaptations, as well as neuron adaptations that allow brain cells to function at oxygen and carbon dioxide levels other mammals cannot tolerate.
"In the most extreme cases, naked mole rat neurons maintain function more than six times longer than mouse neurons after the onset of oxygen deprivation," said Larson.
The findings appear in the Dec. 9 issue of the journal NeuroReport.