Functional, Morphological, and Evolutionary Characterization of Hearing in Subterranean, Eusocial African Mole-Rats

Sonja J. Pyott*, Marcel van Tuinen, Laurel A Screven, Katrina M Schrode, Jun-Ping Bai, Catherine M Barone, Steven D Price, Anna Lysakowski, Maxwell Sanderford, Sudhir Kumar, Joseph Santos-Sacchi, Amanda M Lauer, Thomas J Park

*Bijbehorende auteur voor dit werk

OnderzoeksoutputAcademicpeer review

16 Citaten (Scopus)
38 Downloads (Pure)


Naked mole-rats are highly vocal, eusocial, subterranean rodents with, counterintuitively, poor hearing. The causes underlying their altered hearing are unknown. Moreover, whether altered hearing is degenerate or adaptive to their unique lifestyles is controversial. We used various methods to identify the factors contributing to altered hearing in naked and the related Damaraland mole-rats and to examine whether these alterations result from relaxed or adaptive selection. Remarkably, we found that cochlear amplification was absent from both species despite normal prestin function in outer hair cells isolated from naked mole-rats. Instead, loss of cochlear amplification appears to result from abnormal hair bundle morphologies observed in both species. By exploiting a well-curated deafness phenotype-genotype database, we identified amino acid substitutions consistent with abnormal hair bundle morphology and reduced hearing sensitivity. Amino acid substitutions were found in unique groups of six hair bundle link proteins. Molecular evolutionary analyses revealed shifts in selection pressure at both the gene and the codon level for five of these six hair bundle link proteins. Substitutions in three of these proteins are associated exclusively with altered hearing. Altogether, our findings identify the likely mechanism of altered hearing in African mole-rats, making them the only identified mammals naturally lacking cochlear amplification. Moreover, our findings suggest that altered hearing in African mole-rats is adaptive, perhaps tailoring hearing to eusocial and subterranean lifestyles. Finally, our work reveals multiple, unique evolutionary trajectories in African mole-rat hearing and establishes species members as naturally occurring disease models to investigate human hearing loss.

Originele taal-2English
Pagina's (van-tot)4329-4341.e4
Aantal pagina's17
TijdschriftCurrent Biology
Nummer van het tijdschrift22
Vroegere onlinedatum28-aug.-2020
StatusPublished - 16-nov.-2020

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