Life Lines by Dr. Dolittle

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Cholesterol levels in tissues change during hypoxia in naked mole rats

Naked mole rat photo by Bernard Dupont via Wikimedia Commons

Naked mole rats are rather famous from a physiological perspective for their amazing ability to live in hypoxic conditions. They do so in part by reducing their metabolic rate. In fact, researchers at the University of Ottawa in Canada showed that reducing environmental oxygen levels to 11% resulted in a 34% decrease in the animal’s metabolic rate. Studies of hypoxia-tolerant goldfish show that the animals respond to hypoxia challenges by changing the composition of their cell membranes to aid in reducing metabolism. Similarly, exposure of naked mole rats to hypoxia caused changes in the amount of cholesterol measured in tissues, which reflects changes in their cell membranes.

This was the first report of such effects of hypoxia in a mammal. Such changes are thought to be one way the animals might protect their brain during hypoxia. Their work was published in the American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology.


E Farhat, MEM Devereaux, ME Pamenter, J-M Weber. Naked mole-rats suppress energy metabolism and modulate membrane cholesterol in chronic hypoxia. American Journal of Physiology – Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. In Press

Categories: Extreme Animals, Hibernation and Hypoxia, Nature's Solutions

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