Comparative analysis of thyroid hormone systems in rodents with subterranean lifestyle
African mole-rats are subterranean rodents inhabiting underground burrows. This habitat entails risks of overheating, hypoxia, and scarce food availability. Consequently, many subterranean species have evolved low basal metabolism and low body temperature, but the regulation of these traits at the molecular level were unknown. Measurements of serum thyroid hormone (TH) concentrations in African mole-rats have revealed a unique TH phenotype, which deviates from the typical mammalian pattern. Since THs are major regulators of metabolic rate and body temperature, we further characterised the TH system of two African mole-rat species, the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) and the Ansell’s mole-rat (Fukomys anselli) at the molecular level in a comparative approach involving the house mouse (Mus musculus) as a well-studied laboratory model in TH research. Most intriguingly, both mole-rat species had low iodide levels in the thyroid and naked mole-rats showed signs of thyroid gland hyperplasia. However, contrary to expectations, we found several species-specific differences in the TH systems of both mole-rat species, although ultimately resulting in similar serum TH concentrations. These findings indicate a possible convergent adaptation. Thus, our study adds to our knowledge for understanding adaptations to the subterranean habitat.