Living with stress: Regulation of antioxidant defense genes in the subterranean, hypoxia-tolerant mole rat, Spalax

Stefan Schülke, Daniel Dreidax, Assaf Malik, Thorsten Burmester, Eviatar Nevo, Mark Band, Aaron Avivi, Thomas Hankeln

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Lack of oxygen is life threatening for most mammals. It is therefore of biomedical interest to investigate the adaptive mechanisms which enable mammalian species to tolerate extremely hypoxic conditions. The subterranean mole rat . Spalax survives substantially longer periods of hypoxia than the laboratory rat. We hypothesized that genes of the antioxidant defense, detoxifying harmful reactive oxygen species generated during hypoxia and hyperoxia, are involved in . Spalax underground adaptation. Using quantitative RT-PCR, we analyzed the mRNA expression levels of seven antioxidant defense genes (catalase, glutathione peroxidase 1, glutathione-S-transferase Pi1, heme oxygenase 1, superoxide dismutase 1 and 2) and a master regulator of this stress pathway, nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 (Nrf2) in several tissues of two Israeli . Spalax species, . S. galili (2n. =. 52) and . S. judaei (2n. =. 60), and rat. We also studied the differential expression of these genes after experimental hypoxia and hyperoxia as oxidative stress treatments. We found that mRNA levels and transcriptional responses are species and tissue specific. There are constitutively higher transcript levels of antioxidant genes and their transcription factor Nrf2 in . Spalax tissue as compared to rat, suggesting an increased ability in the mole rat to withstand hypoxic/hyperoxic insults. In contrast to . Spalax, the rat reacts to experimental oxidative stress by changes in gene regulation. In addition, . Spalax Nrf2 reveals unique amino acid changes, which may be functionally important for this transcription factor and indicate positive (Darwinian) selection. Antioxidant defense genes are therefore important targets for adaptive change during evolution of hypoxia tolerance in . Spalax.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-206
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012


  • Hyperoxia
  • Hypoxia
  • Oxygen
  • Reactive oxygen species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics


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