Antioxidant activity in Spalax ehrenbergi: A possible adaptation to underground stress

Beatriz Caballero, Cristina Tomás-Zapico, Ignacio Vega-Naredo, Verónica Sierra, Delio Tolivia, Rüdiger Hardeland, María Josefa Rodríguez-Colunga, Alma Joel, Eviatar Nevo, Aaron Avivi, Ana Coto-Montes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The blind subterranean mole rat Spalax ehrenbergi superspecies has evolved adaptive strategies to cope with underground stress. Hypoxia is known to stimulate reactive oxygen species generation; however, mechanisms by which Spalax counteracts oxidative damage have not been investigated before. We studied in Spalax the oxidative status of the Harderian gland (HG), an organ which is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress in many rodents. With regard to the sexual dimorphism found in this gland, differences between males and females were determined and compared to the surface-dwelling Syrian hamster. Our results show, for the first time, that Spalax exhibits remarkably low biomolecular damage, which implies the existence of physiological strategies to avoid oxidative damage under fluctuating O2 and CO2 levels existing in the mole rat's subterranean niche. Correspondingly, main antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione reductase (GR), exhibited high activities in both genders; in particular, remarkably high levels were measured in SOD. SOD and GR activities showed statistically significant differences between sexes. Melatonin, an important circadian agent is also a very important antioxidant molecule and is synthesized in the Harderian glands (HGs) of Spalax. Therefore, the possible interaction between antioxidant enzymes and melatonin is suggested.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)753-759
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology A: Neuroethology, Sensory, Neural, and Behavioral Physiology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgment This work was partially performed with grants FIS GO3/137 from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III (Spain) and CAL03-074-C2 from INIA, Spain. BC is a FYCIT predoctoral fellow from Principado de Asturias, Spain; CT-Z is a F.P.U. predoctoral fellow from the Secretaría de Estado y Universidades, Spain; AC-M is a researcher from the Ramón y Cajal Program, (Ministerio de Ciencia y Tecnología/Universidad de Oviedo), Spain. E.N and A.A thank the Ancell-Teicher Research Foundation for Genetics and Molecular Evolution for financial support.


  • Antioxidant defense
  • Biomolecular damage
  • Harderian gland
  • Hypoxia
  • Spalax ehrenbergi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Physiology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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