Edible Dormice: The older they get, the more they rejuvenate their cells

The reduction of telomeres, a biological marker for aging, is stopped in older edible dormice. The telomeres are elongated instead. (Photo: Jessica Cornils/Vetmeduni Vienna)

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The shortening of telomeres in cells was thought to be an important biomarker for lifespan and aging. The edible dormouse (Glis glis), a small hibernating rodent, now turns everything upside down. In contrast to humans and other animals, telomere length in the edible dormouse significantly increases in the second half of its life, as researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna found out just recently. The study was published in Scientific Reports.

“As far as I know, no previous study has reported such an effect of age on telomere lengthening,” says Franz Hoelzl, one of the authors. Apparently, this unique pattern is due to the peculiar life history of this species. They can reach maximum lifespan of 13 years, which is a Methuselah-like age for a small rodent. “This extreme lifespan is almost certainly related to their ability to rejuvenate telomeres”, says Hoelzl. Telomeres are the endcaps of chromosomes, which prevent, together with proteins, the degradation of coding DNA sequences. In normal somatic cells, telomeres are shortened with every cell division.

The relative telomere length (RTL) gave evidence

In the Vienna Woods in Austria they regularly checked 130 nest-boxes that are occupied by free-living dormice. The researchers collected the rodent’s buccal mucosa for three years. Thus, they could extract the DNA and determine the relative telomere length for each dormouse individually using qPCR. With this method scientists can define the amount of target DNA compared to a reference gene of the same sample.

“We found out that the telomeres were shortened in young animals but length significantly increased once the dormice were six years old or older. To top it all, the rate of telomere elongation also increased with increasing age of the dormice”, says Franz Hoelzl.

Read the press release "Edible Dormice: The older they get, the more they rejuvenate their cells" for more information. 2

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