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Vet Pathol. 2016 May;53(3):691-6. doi: 10.1177/0300985816630796. Epub 2016 Feb 4.

Initial Case Reports of Cancer in Naked Mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber).

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Department of Comparative Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
Global VetPathology, Montgomery Village, MD, USA.
National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.
Chicago Zoological Society and Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield, IL, USA.
Zoological Pathology Program, University of Illinois, Maywood, IL, USA.
Department of Comparative Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.


Naked mole-rats (NMRs;Heterocephalus glaber) are highly adapted, eusocial rodents renowned for their extreme longevity and resistance to cancer. Because cancer has not been formally described in this species, NMRs have been increasingly utilized as an animal model in aging and cancer research. We previously reported the occurrence of several age-related diseases, including putative pre-neoplastic lesions, in zoo-housed NMR colonies. Here, we report for the first time 2 cases of cancer in zoo-housed NMRs. In Case No. 1, we observed a subcutaneous mass in the axillary region of a 22-year-old male NMR, with histologic, immunohistochemical (pancytokeratin positive, rare p63 immunolabeling, and smooth muscle actin negative), and ultrastructural characteristics of an adenocarcinoma possibly of mammary or salivary origin. In Case No. 2, we observed a densely cellular, poorly demarcated gastric mass of polygonal cells arranged in nests with positive immunolabeling for synaptophysin and chromogranin indicative of a neuroendocrine carcinoma in an approximately 20-year-old male NMR. We also include a brief discussion of other proliferative growths and pre-cancerous lesions diagnosed in 1 zoo colony. Although these case reports do not alter the longstanding observation of cancer resistance, they do raise questions about the scope of cancer resistance and the interpretation of biomedical studies in this model. These reports also highlight the benefit of long-term disease investigations in zoo-housed populations to better understand naturally occurring disease processes in species used as models in biomedical research.


Heterocephalus glaber; adenocarcinoma; cancer; electron microscopy; naked mole-rat; neoplasia; neuroendocrine carcinoma; ultrastructure

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