THURSDAY, July 5, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Your garden-variety rat lives about three years -- plenty long enough to become a nuisance or get a starring role in a Disney film, but not much in the big scheme of things. The naked mole rat, however, a native of East Africa, lives as long as three decades.
Even the naked mole rat's golden years aren't bad, as the rodent doesn't deteriorate much in terms of activity, bone health, sex and brainpower.
What's going on? It may have nothing to do with a lack of hair. (Sorry, bald people.) Instead, a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel, the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and the City College of New York report that a brain-protecting protein called NRG-1 could be an important factor.
The good news: Our genetic makeup is similar to that of rodents -- we share about 85 percent of our genes -- and perhaps more knowledge about this protein could help us live longer and better too, study co-author Dorothee Huchon at Tel Aviv University's department of zoology, suggested in a university news release.
The researchers found that the naked mole rat has the most and longest-lasting supply of the protein of the rodents studied. And their levels of the protein stuck around whether they were one day old or 26 years.
The protein appears to protect neurons in the brain.
Scientists note, however, that research with animals often fails to provide similar results in humans.
The study was published in a recent issue of the journal Aging Cell.
For more about healthy aging, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.