Neuroglobin, cytoglobin, and myoglobin contribute to hypoxia adaptation of the subterranean mole rat Spalax

Aaron Avivi, Frank Gerlach, Alma Joel, Stefan Reuss, Thorsten Burmester, Eviatar Nevo, Thomas Hankeln

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The subterranean mole rat Spalax is an excellent model for studying adaptation of a mammal toward chronic environmental hypoxia. Neuroglobin (Ngb) and cytoglobin (Cygb) areO2-binding respiratory proteins and thus candidates for being involved in molecular hypoxia adaptations of Spalax. Ngb is expressed primarily in vertebrate nerves, whereas Cygb is found in extracellular matrix-producing cells and in some neurons. The physiological functions of both proteins are not fully understood but discussed with regard to O2 supply, the detoxification of reactive oxygen or nitrogen species, and apoptosis protection. Spalax Ngb and Cygb coding sequences are strongly conserved. However, mRNA and protein levels of Ngb in Spalax brain are 3-fold higher than in Rattus norvegicus under normoxia. Importantly, Spalax expresses Ngb in neurons and additionally in glia, whereas in hypoxia-sensitive rodents Ngb expression is limited to neurons. Hypoxia causes an approximately 2-fold downregulation of Ngb mRNA in brain of rat and mole rat. A parallel regulatory response was found for myoglobin (Mb) in Spalax and rat muscle, suggesting similar functions of Mb and Ngb. Cygb also revealed an augmented normoxic expression in Spalax vs. rat brain, but not in heart or liver, indicating distinct tissue-specific functions. Hypoxia induced Cygb transcription in heart and liver of both mammals, with themost prominentmRNAup-regulation (12-fold) in Spalax heart. Our data suggest that tissue globins contribute to the remarkable tolerance of Spalax toward environmental hypoxia. This is consistent with the proposed cytoprotective effect of Ngb and Cygb under pathological hypoxic/ischemic conditions in mammals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21570-21575
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number50
StatePublished - 14 Dec 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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