Skin morphology and its role in thermoregulation in mole-rats, Heterocephalus glaber and Cryptomys hottentotus.
The skin structure of 2 Bathyergid rodents, the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) and the common mole-rat (Cryptomys hottentotus) is compared, to investigate whether thermoregulatory differences may be attributed to different skin features. Histological and ultrastructural studies of the dorsal skin of these closely related species show morphological and structural similarities but differences in the degree of skin folding, thickness of the integument and dermal infrastructure were evident. The skin of the common mole-rat conforms with expected morphological/histological arrangements that are commonly found in mammalian skin. Many features of the skin of the naked mole-rat, such as the lack of an insulating layer and the loosely folded morphological arrangement contribute to poikilothermic responses to changing temperatures of this mammal. Further evidence for poikilothermy in the naked mole-rat is indicated by the presence of pigment containing cells in the dermis, rather than the epidermis, as commonly occurs in homeotherms. Lack of fur is compensated by a thicker epidermal layer and a marked reduction in sweat glands. Differences in skin morphology thus contribute substantially to the different thermoregulatory abilities of the 2 Bathyergids. The skin morphology is related to the poor thermoinsulatory ability of the animals while simultaneously facilitating heat transfer from the environment to the animal by thigmothermy and/or other behavioural means. (+info)
Adaptive hypoxic tolerance in the subterranean mole rat Spalax ehrenbergi: the role of vascular endothelial growth factor.
Spalax ehrenbergi has evolved adaptations that allow it to survive and carry out normal activities in a highly hypoxic environment. A key component of this adaptation is a higher capillary density in some Spalax tissues resulting in a shorter diffusion distance for oxygen. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is an angiogenic factor that is critical for angiogenesis during development and in response to tissue ischemia. We demonstrate here that VEGF expression is markedly increased in those Spalax tissues with a higher capillary density relative to the normal laboratory rat Rattus norvegicus. Upregulation of VEGF thus appears to be an additional mechanism by which Spalax has adapted to its hypoxic environment. (+info)
Circadian biology: clocks for the real world.
The circadian system of Neurospora crassa includes a molecular feedback loop that is entrainable by light. A recent study has shown that a second, elusive oscillator interacts with the feedback loop to drive output rhythms. (+info)
Spectral tuning of a circadian photopigment in a subterranean 'blind' mammal (Spalax ehrenbergi).
The atrophied subcutaneous eyes of Spalax ehrenbergi (the blind mole rat) express a long wavelength sensitive (LWS) cone opsin. Our data provide strong evidence that this photopigment is spectrally tuned to enhance photon capture in the red light environment of the eye. Furthermore, novel mechanisms appear partially responsible for this sensory fine-tuning. These data support the hypothesis that the LWS opsin of Spalax acts as a functional photopigment and that it is not a 'residue' of the pre-subterranean visual system. As the eye of Spalax has only one known function, the entrainment of circadian rhythms to environmental light, the LWS photopigment is implicated in this task. These results, together with our recent findings that rod and cone photopigments are not required for murine photoentrainment, suggest that multiple photopigments (classical and novel) mediate the effects of light on the mammalian circadian system. (+info)
Kin discrimination and female mate choice in the naked mole-rat Heterocephalus glaber.
Naked mole-rats are fossorial, eusocial rodents that naturally exhibit high levels of inbreeding. Persistent inbreeding in animals often results in a substantial decline in fitness and, thus, dispersal and avoidance of kin as mates are two common inbreeding avoidance mechanisms. In the naked mole-rat evidence for the former has recently been found. Here we address the latter mechanism by investigating kin recognition and female mate choice using a series of choice tests in which the odour, social and mate preferences of females were determined. Discrimination by females appears to be dependent on their reproductive status. Reproductively active females prefer to associate with unfamiliar males, whereas reproductively inactive females do not discriminate. Females do not discriminate between kin and non-kin suggesting that the criterion for recognition is familiarity, not detection of genetic similarity per se. In the wild, naked mole-rats occupy discrete burrow systems and dispersal and mixing with non-kin is thought to be comparatively rare. Thus, recognition by familiarity may function as a highly efficient kin recognition mechanism in the naked mole-rat. A preference by reproductively active females for unfamiliar males is interpreted as inbreeding avoidance. These findings suggest that, despite an evolutionary history of close inbreeding, naked mole-rats may not be exempt from the effects of inbreeding depression and will attempt to outbreed should the opportunity arise. (+info)
Inbreeding avoidance and reproductive skew in a cooperative mammal.
In animal social groups, socially subordinate individuals frequently show low reproductive success or completely fail to breed. This suppression of subordinate reproduction is currently typically attributed to control by dominant individuals. However, subordinates in cooperative groups often lack access to unrelated mates, and an alternative possibility is that their reproduction is limited by inbreeding avoidance. Using the eusocial Damaraland mole-rat Cryptomys damarensis, this paper provides the first experimental evidence, to our knowledge, for this explanation. Subordinate, non-breeding female mole-rats were given access to unrelated mates while remaining in the presence of dominant females, and many became reproductively active soon after unrelated males were introduced. Inbreeding avoidance and the availability of unrelated mates provides a plausible and untested explanation for variation in reproductive skew across animal societies. (+info)
Anovulation in non-reproductive female Damaraland mole-rats (Cryptomys damarensis).
Within colonies of Damaraland mole-rats (Cryptomys damarensis), anovulation in non-reproductive females is thought to play an important role in maintaining reproductive skew. Pituitary sensitivity and ovarian structure were examined in three groups of females that differed with respect to their social environment and breeding status to determine whether anovulation is due to inhibitory social cues or is merely the result of a lack of copulatory stimulation. The contribution of gonadal steroid negative feedback to neuroendocrine differences in the reproductive systems of the respective groups was also investigated. LH secretion after a 0.5 micrograms GnRH challenge in females that had been removed from the presence of the breeding individuals for at least 6 months (removed non-reproductive females) was significantly higher than in non-reproductive females in the colony, but significantly lower than in reproductive females. In both removed non-reproductive females and reproductive females, corpora lutea were observed in ovaries of seven of eight females, indicating that ovulation occurs spontaneously in subordinate females on removal from the breeding pair. Circulating progesterone concentrations in removed non-reproductive females were significantly higher than in non-reproductive females, indicating that circulating progesterone is not responsible for infertility in non-reproductive females. Indeed, after hystero-ovariectomy, reproductive females continued to show significantly greater GnRH-stimulated LH secretion than non-reproductive females. Thus, differential inhibition of gonadotrophin secretion in breeding and non-breeding females occurs independently of gonadal steroids. It is concluded that female Damaraland mole-rats are spontaneous ovulators and that anovulation results from inhibitory social cues within the colony, not a lack of copulatory stimulation. Since non-reproductive females are infertile, inhibition of the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis has the potential to play a causal role in maintaining reproductive skew in colonies of C. damarensis. (+info)
A fully functional rod visual pigment in a blind mammal. A case for adaptive functional reorganization?
In the blind subterranean mole rat Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies complete ablation of the visual image-forming capability has been accompanied by an expansion of the bilateral projection from the retina to the suprachiasmatic nucleus. We have cloned the open reading frame of a visual pigment from Spalax that shows >90% homology with mammalian rod pigments. Baculovirus expression yields a membrane protein with all functional characteristics of a rod visual pigment (lambda(max) = 497 +/- 2 nm; pK(a) of meta I/meta II equilibrium = 6.5; rapid activation of transducin in the light). We not only provide evidence that this Spalax rod pigment is fully functional in vitro but also show that all requirements for a functional pigment are present in vivo. The physiological consequences of this unexpected finding are discussed. One attractive option is that during adaptation to a subterranean lifestyle, the visual system of this mammal has undergone mosaic reorganization, and the visual pigments have adapted to a function in circadian photoreception. (+info)