The ubiquity and resilience of microorganisms makes them unavoidable in most environments including space habitats. The impaired immune system of astronauts in flight raises the level of concern about disease risk during human space missions and additionally these biological contaminants may affect life support systems and hardware. In this review, the microbial contamination observed in manned space stations and in particular the International Space Station ISS will be discussed, demonstrating that it is a microbiologically safe working and living habitat. Microbial contamination levels were in general below the implemented quality standards, although, occasional contamination hazard reports indicate that the current prevention and monitoring strategies are the strict minimum.
Research Containing: immune function
Discovery of Spaceflight-Related virulence Mechanisms in Salmonella and Other Microbial Pathogens: Novel Approaches to Commercial Vaccine Development
Understanding infectious disease risks during spaceflight is critical to provide safe passage for human space exploration and holds potential for innovations in infectious disease control for the general public. The key to this research is the novel way that cells adapt and respond to spaceflight, as they exhibit important biological characteristics that are directly relevant to human health and disease including changes in immune function, cellular stress responses, and infectious disease potential that are not observed using traditional experimental approaches. We discovered that spaceflight uniquely alters the virulence and gene expression of the bacterial pathogen Salmonella typhimurium, and that the conserved, small regulatory RNA-binding protein, Hfq, plays a central role in regulating the Salmonella spaceflight response. We have subsequently shown that spaceflight culture also alters the Hfq regulon in other bacterial pathogens. As Hfq regulation is often associated with ionic salt concentrations, we discovered that altering the concentration of certain ionic salts, like phosphates, in the growth media prevents the increased disease causing potential of Salmonella during spaceflight. Collectively, our results suggest that RNA binding regulatory proteins and their small RNA binding counterparts may be key to a conserved, common cellular spaceflight response mechanism in bacterial cells that can be manipulated by environmental salt/ion levels. The implications of our findings would affect NASA’s approach to infectious disease risk assessment, development of biological processing systems for exploration, and other mission-related functions. Knowledge gained from this work will broaden our knowledge of microbial cells for both spaceflight and Earth based applications and holds translational potential for the development of vaccines and therapeutics for the general public.
Long-duration spaceflight effects on T-cell immunity and cytokine production were studied in 12 Russian cosmonauts flown onto the International Space Station. Specific assays were performed before launch and after landing and included analysis of peripheral leukocyte distribution, analysis of T-cell phenotype, expression of activation markers, apoptosis, proliferation of T cells in response to a mitogen, concentrations of cytokines in supernatants of cell cultures. Statistically significant increase was observed in leukocytes’, lymphocytes’, monocytes’ and granulocytes’ total number, increase in percentage and absolutely number of CD3+CD4+-cells, CD4+CD45RA+-cells and CD4+CD45RA+/CD4+CD45RО+ ratio, CD4+CD25+Bright regulatory cells (p<0,05) in peripheral blood after landing. T-lymphocytes’ capacity to present CD69 and CD25 on its own surfaces was increased for the majority of crewmembers. Analysis of T-cell response to PHA-stimulation in vitro revealed there were some trends toward reduced proliferation of stimulated T-lymphocytes. There was an apparent post flight decrease in secreted IFN-g for the majority of crewmembers and in most instances there was elevation in secreted IL-10. It revealed depression of IFN-g/IL-10 ratio after flight. Correlation analysis according to Spearman’s rank correlation test established significant positive correlations (p<0.05) between cytokine production and T-cell activation (CD25+, CD38+) and negative correlation (p<0.05) between cytokine production and number of bulk memory CD4+T-cells (CD45RO+). Thus, these results suggest that T-cell dysfunction can be conditioned by cytokine dysbalance and could lead to development of disease after long-duration space flights.
Success of long duration space missions will depend upon robust immunity. Decreased immunity has been observed in astronauts during short duration missions, as evident by the reactivation of latent herpes viruses. Seventeen astronauts were studied for reactivation and shedding of latent herpes viruses before, during, and after 9-14 days of 8 spaceflights. Blood, urine, and saliva samples were collected 10 days before the flight (L-10), during the flight (saliva only), 2-3h after landing (R+0), 3 days after landing (R+3), and 120 days after landing (R+120). Values at R+120 were used as baseline levels. No shedding of viruses occurred before flight, but 9 of the 17 (designated "virus shedders") shed at least one or more viruses during and after flight. The remaining 8 astronauts did not shed any of the 3 target viruses (non-virus shedders). Virus-shedders showed elevations in 10 plasma cytokines (IL-1alpha, IL-6, IL-8, IFNgamma, IL-4, IL-10, IL-12, IL-13, eotaxin, and IP-10) at R+0 over baseline values. Only IL-4 and IP-10 were elevated in plasma of non-virus shedders. In virus shedders, plasma IL-4 (a Th2 cytokine) was elevated 21-fold at R+0, whereas IFNgamma (a Th1 cytokine) was elevated only 2-fold indicating a Th2 shift. The inflammatory cytokine IL-6 was elevated 33-fold at R+0. In non-shedding astronauts at R+0, only IL-4 and IP-10 levels were elevated over baseline values. Elevated cytokines began returning to normal by R+3, and by R+120 all except IL-4 had returned to baseline values. These data show an association between elevated plasma cytokines and increased viral reactivation in astronauts.
Post-Spaceflight (STS-135) Mouse Splenocytes Demonstrate Altered Activation Properties and Surface Molecule Expression
Alterations in immune function have been documented during or post-spaceflight and in ground based models of microgravity. Identification of immune parameters that are dysregulated during spaceflight is an important step in mitigating crew health risks during deep space missions. The in vitro analysis of leukocyte activity post-spaceflight in both human and animal species is primarily focused on lymphocytic function. This report completes a broader spectrum analysis of mouse lymphocyte and monocyte changes post 13 days orbital flight (mission STS-135). Analysis includes an examination in surface markers for cell activation, and antigen presentation and co-stimulatory molecules. Cytokine production was measured after stimulation with T-cell mitogen or TLR-2, TLR-4, or TLR-5 agonists. Splenocyte surface marker analysis immediate post-spaceflight and after in vitro culture demonstrated unique changes in phenotypic populations between the flight mice and matched treatment ground controls. Post-spaceflight splenocytes (flight splenocytes) had lower expression intensity of CD4+CD25+ and CD8+CD25+ cells, lower percentage of CD11c+MHC II+ cells, and higher percentage of CD11c+MHC I+ populations compared to ground controls. The flight splenocytes demonstrated an increase in phagocytic activity. Stimulation with ConA led to decrease in CD4+ population but increased CD4+CD25+ cells compared to ground controls. Culturing with TLR agonists led to a decrease in CD11c+ population in splenocytes isolated from flight mice compared to ground controls. Consequently, flight splenocytes with or without TLR-agonist stimulation showed a decrease in CD11c+MHC I+, CD11c+MHC II+, and CD11c+CD86+ cells compared to ground controls. Production of IFN-gamma was decreased and IL-2 was increased from ConA stimulated flight splenocytes. This study demonstrated that expression of surface molecules can be affected by conditions of spaceflight and impaired responsiveness persists under culture conditions in vitro.
Plasma cytokine concentrations indicate that in vivo hormonal regulation of immunity is altered during long-duration spaceflight
Aspects of immune system dysregulation associated with long-duration spaceflight have yet to be fully characterized and may represent a clinical risk to crewmembers during deep space missions. Plasma cytokine concentration may serve as an indicator of in vivo physiological changes or immune system mobilization. The plasma concentrations of 22 cytokines were monitored in 28 astronauts during long-duration spaceflight onboard the International Space Station. Blood samples were collected 3 times before flight, 3-5 times during flight (depending on mission duration), at landing, and 30 days after landing. Analysis was performed by bead array immunoassay. With few exceptions, minimal detectable mean plasma concentrations were observed at baseline (launch minus 180) for innate inflammatory cytokines or adaptive regulatory cytokines; however, interleukin (IL)-1ra and several chemokines and growth factors were constitutively present. An increase in the plasma concentration, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha), IL-8, IL-1ra, thrombopoietin (Tpo), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), C-C motif chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2), chemokine ligand 4/macrophage inhibitory protein 1b (CCL4), and C-X-C motif chemokine 5/epithelial neutrophil-activating protein 78 (CXCL5) was observed associated with spaceflight. No significant alterations were observed during or following spaceflight for the inflammatory or adaptive/T-regulatory cytokines: IL-1alpha, IL-1beta, IL-2, interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), IL-17, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, G-CSF, GM-CSF, FGF basic, CCL3, or CCL5. This pattern of cytokine dysregulation suggests multiple physiological adaptations persist during flight, including inflammation, leukocyte recruitment, angiogenesis, and thrombocyte regulation.