PREMISE OF THE STUDY: Gravity has been a major force throughout the evolution of terrestrial organisms, and plants have developed exquisitely sensitive, regulated tropisms and growth patterns that are based on the gravity vector. The nullified gravity during spaceflight allows direct assessment of gravity roles. The microgravity environments provided by the Space Shuttle and International Space Station have made it possible to seek novel insights into gravity perception at the organismal, tissue, and cellular levels. Cell cultures of Arabidopsis thaliana perceive and respond to spaceflight, even though they lack the specialized cell structures normally associated with gravity perception in intact plants; in particular, genes for a specific subset of heat shock proteins (HSPs) and factors (HSFs) are induced. Here we ask if similar changes in HSP gene expression occur during nonspaceflight changes in gravity stimulation. METHODS: Quantitative RT-qPCR was used to evaluate mRNA levels for Hsp17.6A and Hsp101 in cell cultures exposed to four conditions: spaceflight (mission STS-131), hypergravity (centrifugation at 3 g or 16 g), sustained two-dimensional clinorotation, and transient milligravity achieved on parabolic flights. KEY RESULTS: We showed that HSP genes were induced in cells only in response to sustained clinorotation. Transient microgravity intervals in parabolic flight and various hypergravity conditions failed to induce HSP genes. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that nondifferentiated cells do indeed sense their gravity environment and HSP genes are induced only in response to prolonged microgravity or simulated microgravity conditions. We hypothesize that HSP induction upon microgravity indicates a role for HSP-related proteins in maintaining cytoskeletal architecture and cell shape signaling.
Research Containing: Heat-Shock Proteins
Space travel presents unlimited opportunities for exploration and discovery, but requires better understanding of the biological consequences of long-term exposure to spaceflight. Immune function in particular is relevant for space travel. Human immune responses are weakened in space, with increased vulnerability to opportunistic infections and immune-related conditions. In addition, microorganisms can become more virulent in space, causing further challenges to health. To understand these issues better and to contribute to design of effective countermeasures, we used the Drosophila model of innate immunity to study immune responses in both hypergravity and spaceflight. Focusing on infections mediated through the conserved Toll and Imd signaling pathways, we found that hypergravity improves resistance to Toll-mediated fungal infections except in a known gravitaxis mutant of the yuri gagarin gene. These results led to the first spaceflight project on Drosophila immunity, in which flies that developed to adulthood in microgravity were assessed for immune responses by transcription profiling on return to Earth. Spaceflight alone altered transcription, producing activation of the heat shock stress system. Space flies subsequently infected by fungus failed to activate the Toll pathway. In contrast, bacterial infection produced normal activation of the Imd pathway. We speculate on possible linkage between functional Toll signaling and the heat shock chaperone system. Our major findings are that hypergravity and spaceflight have opposing effects, and that spaceflight produces stress-related transcriptional responses and results in a specific inability to mount a Toll-mediated infection response.
Expression of stress-related genes in zebrawood (Astronium fraxinifolium, Anacardiaceae) seedlings following germination in microgravity
Seeds of a tropical tree species from Brazil, Astronium fraxinifolium, or zebrawood, were germinated, for the first time in microgravity, aboard the International Space Station for nine days. Following three days of subsequent growth under normal terrestrial gravitational conditions, greater root length and numbers of secondary roots was observed in the microgravity-treated seedlings compared to terrestrially germinated controls. Suppression subtractive hybridization of cDNA and EST analysis were used to detect differential gene expression in the microgravity-treated seedlings in comparison to those initially grown in normal gravity (forward subtraction). Despite their return to, and growth in normal gravity, the subtracted library derived from microgravity-treated seedlings was enriched in known microgravity stress-related ESTs, corresponding to large and small heat shock proteins, 14-3-3-like protein, polyubiquitin, and proteins involved in glutathione metabolism. In contrast, the reverse-subtracted library contained a comparatively greater variety of general metabolism-related ESTs, but was also enriched for peroxidase, possibly indicating the suppression of this protein in the microgravity-treated seedlings. Following continued growth for 30 days, higher concentrations of total chlorophyll were detected in the microgravity-exposed seedlings.