High-molecular-mass hyaluronan mediates the cancer resistance of the naked mole rat
- Published online
The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) displays exceptional longevity, with a maximum lifespan exceeding 30 years1, 2, 3. This is the longest reported lifespan for a rodent species and is especially striking considering the small body mass of the naked mole rat. In comparison, a similarly sized house mouse has a maximum lifespan of 4 years4, 5. In addition to their longevity, naked mole rats show an unusual resistance to cancer. Multi-year observations of large naked mole-rat colonies did not detect a single incidence of cancer2, 6. Here we identify a mechanism responsible for the naked mole rat’s cancer resistance. We found that naked mole-rat fibroblasts secrete extremely high-molecular-mass hyaluronan (HA), which is over five times larger than human or mouse HA. This high-molecular-mass HA accumulates abundantly in naked mole-rat tissues owing to the decreased activity of HA-degrading enzymes and a unique sequence of hyaluronan synthase 2 (HAS2). Furthermore, the naked mole-rat cells are more sensitive to HA signalling, as they have a higher affinity to HA compared with mouse or human cells. Perturbation of the signalling pathways sufficient for malignant transformation of mouse fibroblasts fails to transform naked mole-rat cells. However, once high-molecular-mass HA is removed by either knocking down HAS2 or overexpressing the HA-degrading enzyme, HYAL2, naked mole-rat cells become susceptible to malignant transformation and readily form tumours in mice. We speculate that naked mole rats have evolved a higher concentration of HA in the skin to provide skin elasticity needed for life in underground tunnels. This trait may have then been co-opted to provide cancer resistance and longevity to this species.