Mapping RNA in Search of the Mechanisms of Bat Longevity

Both birds and bats have great longevity for their size in comparison to mammalian species that do not fly, which has led researchers to theorize that the metabolic demands of flight lead to the evolution of cell structures that are more resistant to the damage of aging. Energy metabolism revolves around the mitochondria, the power plants of the cells, and so this in turn points to an important role for mitochondrial function and damage to mitochondria in determining aging and longevity, both across species and in individuals. There are good correlations between mitochondrial composition, the degree to which mitochondrial structures can resist oxidative damage, and mammalian life span, for example. Researchers here take a more reductionist approach to the question of why bats are exceptionally long-lived, and begin by mapping the RNA of a bat species:

Of all mammals, bats possess some of the most unique and peculiar adaptations that render them as excellent models to investigate the mechanisms of extended longevity and potentially halted senescence. They are considered the 'Methusalehs' among mammals due to their exceptional and surprising longevity given their body size and metabolic rate. Typically mammals that are small have a high metabolic rate (e.g. shrews) and do not live for a long time. However, despite their small size and high metabolic rate bats can live for an exceptionally long time, with the oldest recorded Brandt's bat (wild caught as an adult) ever recaptured being more than 41 years old with a body weight of 7 grams. Indeed, to get a positive correlation between longevity and body size in mammals, bats must be removed from the analyses. By comparing the ratio of expected longevity to that predicted from the 'non-bat placental mammal' regression line (longevity quotient - LQ) only 19 species of mammals are longer lived than man, one of these species being the naked mole rat and the other 18 are bats. This suggests that bats have some underlying mechanisms that may explain their exceptional longevity.

MicroRNA (miRNA) are a subset of short endogenous non-coding RNA that play a significant role in post-transcriptional regulation, via repression of translation. Since the first miRNA was discovered in 1993, a multitude of miRNA have subsequently been identified, and implicated in the regulation of the vast majority of biological pathways including cell cycle regulation, metabolism, tumorigenesis, as well as immune response. However, the role of miRNA regulation in mammalian ageing and the onset of age-related diseases has only recently been established. In mammals, various miRNA have been shown to be differentially expressed during ageing, most of which appear to be generally tissue-specific. In addition to tissue-specific ageing, it is increasingly evident that many miRNA regulate gene expressions in well-known ageing pathways, most notably in the p53 tumor suppressor pathway and insulin-like growth factor signaling pathway.

Despite being the second largest order of mammals (~1200 species), there is a scarcity of genomic and transcriptomic bat resources. To date, only five well-annotated bat genomes are publically available. Phylogenomic studies of bat genomes and other mammalian species reveal that a number of genes are under positive selection in bats. These genic adaptations have been correlated with traits such as echolocation, powered flight, hibernation, immunity and longevity. For example, specific non-synonymous mutations in GHR and IGF1R, key ageing-related genes, were detected in several long-lived vespertilionid bats (M. brandtii, M. lucifugus and Eptesicus fuscus), while a large proportion of genes involved in DNA repair (RAD50, KU80, MDM2, etc.) and the NF-кB pathway (c-REL and ATM2, etc.) were reported to be under positive or divergent selection in M. davidii and P. alecto. These results suggest bats may better detect and repair DNA damage. Intriguingly, positive selection was also detected in mitochondrial-encoded and nuclear-encoded oxidative phosphorylation genes in bats, which may explain their efficient energy metabolism necessary for flight. Apart from comparative genome analysis, only a small number of transcriptomic studies on bats using have been carried out, focused primarily on the characteristics of hibernation, immunity, echolocation and phylogeny. However, the molecular mechanisms of adaptations affecting longevity are still far from understood, especially with respect to gene regulation.

In the present study, we sequenced six small RNA libraries from whole blood sampled from wild-caught greater mouse-eared bats (Myotis myotis) and for the first time made genome-wide comparisons of both miRNomes and mRNA transcriptomes between bat and non-bat mammalian species (human, pig and cow). The profiling of the M. myotis blood miRNome showed a large number of bat-specific miRNA involved in regulating important pathways related to immunity, tumorigenesis and ageing. Comparative analyses of both miRNomes and transcriptomes also revealed distinctive longevity mechanisms in bats. Several up-regulated miRNA possibly act as tumor suppressors. Gene Ontology (GO) enrichment analysis of differentially expressed protein-coding genes showed that up-regulated genes in bats compared to other mammals were mainly involved in mitotic cell cycle and DNA damage repair pathways while a high number of down-regulated genes were enriched in mitochondrial metabolism. The results and data presented here show unique regulatory mechanisms for protection against tumorigenesis, reduced oxidative stress, and robust DNA repair systems, likely contribute to the extraordinary longevity of bats.



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