Nest Carbon Dioxide Masks GABA-Dependent Seizure Susceptibility in the Naked Mole-Rat

Image credit: Roland Gockel


African naked mole-rats were likely the first mammals to evolve eusociality, and thus required adaptations to conserve energy and tolerate the low oxygen (O2) and high carbon dioxide (CO2) of a densely populated fossorial nest. As hypercapnia is known to suppress neuronal activity, we studied whether naked mole-rats might demonstrate energy savings in GABAergic inhibition. Using whole-colony behavioral monitoring of captive naked mole-rats, we found a durable nest, characterized by high CO2 levels, where all colony members spent the majority of their time. Analysis of the naked mole-rat genome revealed, uniquely among mammals, a histidine point variation in the neuronal potassium-chloride co-transporter 2 (KCC2). A histidine missense substitution mutation at this locus in the human ortholog of KCC2, found previously in patients with febrile seizures and epilepsy, has been demonstrated to diminish neuronal chloride extrusion capacity, and thus impairs GABAergic inhibition. Seizures were observed, without pharmacological intervention, in adult naked mole-rats exposed to a simulated hyperthermic surface environment, causing hypocapnia. Consistent with the diminished function of KCC2, adult naked mole-rats demonstrate a reduced efficacy of inhibition that manifests as triggering of seizures at room temperature by the GABAergic positive allosteric modulator diazepam. These seizures are blocked in the presence of nest-like levels of CO2 and likely to be mediated through GABAA receptor activity, based on in vitro recordings. Thus, altered GABAergic inhibition adds to a growing list of adaptations in the naked mole-rat and provide a plausible proximate mechanism for nesting behavior, where a return to the colony nest restores GABA-mediated inhibition.

Current Biology
Dan McCloskey
Dan McCloskey
Professor of Psychology

Dan McCloskey is Associate Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center in the City University of New York