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Naked Mole-Rat Ageing
EMBO Journal Cover Art

 Naked mole-rats (NMRs), burrowing rodents native to Africa, are fascinating and highly specialized species with many unique adaptations for their underground, social lifestyle. They have become a subject of scientific research in various fields, including biology, physiology, and genetics, due to their intriguing characteristics. Dr. Kyoko Miura and her team have been studying this species using NMR cells. In a new study has elucidated one of the mysterious mechanisms of cellular senescence in NMRs.

The paper was published at EMBO J.(2023);42(16)e111133.


Long-lived, Cancer-resistant Species


 Naked mole-rats are known for their remarkable longevity among rodents. They can live for several decades, with some individuals in captivity reaching over 30 years of age. Also, they have a unique mechanism for preventing cells from becoming cancerous.

My first drawing of NMRs. They are ugly cute!

 Given the role of cellular  senescence  in  aging,  Dr. Miura and her team  postulated  that  NMRs  possess unidentified species-specific  mechanisms  to  prevent senescent cell accumulation. They found that upon induction of cellular senescence, NMR cells underwent delayed and progressive cell death that required activation of a certain pathway.

“They are intentionally killing/removing senescent cells as a strategy to resist aging. ”

Said Dr. Miura at the first meeting. To contain this concepts in the cover, we came up with two ideas: 1. blasting senescent cells in an excavation scene (on the left of the following rough sketches), 2. Arrowing at senescent cells as a homage of Choju-giga (on the right of the following rough sketches).

Two rough sketches of the cover art.

 They liked the excavation version because this idea matches to NMR burrowing lifestyle. Dynamites, a plunger, and working NMRs are metaphors for specific elements leading to the cell-death.

Base illustrations were drawn by graphite and color-pencils.

A finished Cover Art (with official EMBO journal logo.)

 The official cover legend says: “This cover highlights the article Cellular senescence induction leads to progressive cell death via the INK4a-RB pathway in naked mole-rats by Yoshimi Kawamura, Hideyuki Okano, Kyoko Miura and colleagues. This study reveals that naked mole-rat (NMR) fibroblasts undergo progressive cell death upon induction of cellular senescence through activation of the INK4a-RB pathway. In NMR fibroblasts, INK4a-RB pathway activation leads to monoamine oxidase (MAO)-dependent serotonin oxidization to produce H2O2, resulting in increased oxidative damage and activation of cell death. The illustration features MAO-dependent removal of senescent cells (represented in purple), preventing their accumulation in NMR body tissues during ageing. (Cover concept by the authors; scientific illustration by Misaki Ouchida.)”

Indeed, NMR’s research has a potential to lead to the development of novel anti-aging and anti-cancer strategies in humans in future. I look forward to seeing their further studies.

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