Due to spaceflight, astronauts experience serious, weightlessness-induced bone loss because of an unbalanced process of bone remodeling that involves bone marrow mes- enchymal stem cells (BMSCs), as well as osteoblasts, osteo- cytes, and osteoclasts. The effects of microgravity on osteo- cells have been extensively studied, but it is only recently that consideration has been given to the role of BMSCs. Pre- vious researches indicated that human BMSCs cultured in simulated microgravity (sim-μg) alter their proliferation and differentiation. The spaceflight opportunities for biomedical experiments are rare and suffer from a number of opera- tive constraints that could bias the validity of the experiment itself, but remain a unique opportunity to confirm and explain the effects due to microgravity, that are only par- tially activated/detectable in simulated conditions. For this reason, we carefully prepared the SCD – STEM CELLS DIFFERENTIATION experiment, selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) and now on the International Space Station (ISS). Here we present the preparatory studies per- formed on ground to adapt the project to the spaceflight constraints in terms of culture conditions, fixation and stor- age of human BMSCs in space aiming at satisfying the biological requirements mandatory to retrieve suitable sam- ples for post-flight analyses. We expect to understand better the molecular mechanisms governing human BMSC growth and differentiation hoping to outline new countermeasures against astronaut bone loss.
Research Containing: epigenetics
Altered immune function has been demonstrated in astronauts during spaceflights dating back to Apollo and Skylab; this could be a major barrier to long-term space exploration. We tested the hypothesis that spaceflight causes changes in microRNA (miRNA) expression. Human leukocytes were stimulated with mitogens on board the International Space Station using an onboard normal gravity control. Bioinformatics showed that miR-21 was significantly up-regulated 2-fold during early T-cell activation in normal gravity, and gene expression was suppressed under microgravity. This was confirmed using quantitative real-time PCR (n = 4). This is the first report that spaceflight regulates miRNA expression. Global microarray analysis showed significant (P < 0.05) suppression of 85 genes under microgravity conditions compared to normal gravity samples. EGR3, FASLG, BTG2, SPRY2, and TAGAP are biologically confirmed targets and are co-up-regulated with miR-21. These genes share common promoter regions with pre-mir-21; as the miR-21 matures and accumulates, it most likely will inhibit translation of its target genes and limit the immune response. These data suggest that gravity regulates T-cell activation not only by transcription promotion but also by blocking translation via noncoding RNA mechanisms. Moreover, this study suggests that T-cell activation itself may induce a sequence of gene expressions that is self-limited by miR-21.