Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, leading to bone fragility and increased susceptibility to fractures. The microgravity of space creates an extreme environment that provides a model for osteoporosis in humans. This greatly accelerated form of osteopenia results in a 0.5-2% loss of bone mass per month. Rat models for this osteoporosis have been examined on many occasions, but STS-108 was the first Space Shuttle flight to use mice. Data reported to date indicate that spaceflight experiments with mice hold promise in predicting some spaceflight effects on humans. Due to the cost and infrequency of flights, ground-based models have been developed to mimic the deleterious effects of the microgravity environment. Hindlimb suspension is one such localized model. This model removes gravitational loading from the hindlimbs by suspending the animal by its tail to a guy wire that runs lengthwise across the cage. Because mice had not flown before STS-108, a direct comparison of this model’s ability to predict spaceflight results has not been examined. The objective of this research is to closely repeat the STS- 108 profile, with hindlimb suspension replacing spaceflight. This includes examining the ability of the protein osteoprotegerin, an osteoclast-inhibiting therapeutic, to mitigate the deleterious effects of skeletal unloading. It is expected that the results will lead to better understanding of the mechanisms of mineralization and bone remodeling to aid in development of countermeasures to prevent spaceflight induced osteoporosis and aid the treatment of osteoporosis here on earth.
Research Containing: Mouse
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency developed the mouse Habitat Cage Unit (HCU) for installation in the Cell Biology Experiment Facility (CBEF) onboard the Japanese Experimental Module (“Kibo”) on the International Space Station. The CBEF provides “space-based controls” by generating artificial gravity in the HCU through a centrifuge, enabling a comparison of the biological consequences of microgravity and artificial gravity of 1 g on mice housed in space. Therefore, prior to the space experiment, a ground-based study to validate the habitability of the HCU is necessary to conduct space experiments using the HCU in the CBEF. Here, we investigated the ground-based effect of a 32-day housing period in the HCU breadboard model on male mice in comparison with the control cage mice. Morphology of skeletal muscle, the thymus, heart, and kidney, and the sperm function showed no critical abnormalities between the control mice and HCU mice. Slight but significant changes caused by the HCU itself were observed, including decreased body weight, increased weights of the thymus and gastrocnemius, reduced thickness of cortical bone of the femur, and several gene expressions from 11 tissues. Results suggest that the HCU provides acceptable conditions for mouse phenotypic analysis using CBEF in space, as long as its characteristic features are considered. Thus, the HCU is a feasible device for future space experiments.
It has been well documented that spaceflight has adverse effects on many tissues and systems throughout the body. Although this phenomenon is well documented, relatively little research has been done in the area of the female reproductive system. If spaceflight has harmful effects on the female reproductive system, the migration of the human species into space would be greatly compromised. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of spaceflight on the thickness of the apical mucin layer in the vaginae of mice, as changes in this layer could have detrimental effects on sperm survival and, therefore, a profound impact on the animal’s ability to reproduce. This study examined the thickness of the vaginal mucin lining from female mice that were exposed to 13 days of spaceflight and their concomitant controls. The tissues were stained using a technique commonly used to localize and analyze mucin varieties. The tissue was qualitatively analyzed for the type of mucin produced (i.e., acidic, neutral, acidic/neutral mixture). Further, the tissue was quantitatively analyzed for the amount of mucins produced by measuring the thickness of the mucin layer. The results of this study indicate that spaceflight causes a thickening of the mucin lining of the vaginal canal. The results further indicate being housed in an Animal Enclosure Module also caused a thickening of the vaginal mucin layer — presumably due to internal cage environmental factors — but this effect was not as pronounced as that seen in the spaceflight mice.
Effects of spaceflight on the murine mandible: Possible factors mediating skeletal changes in non-weight bearing bones of the head
Spaceflight-induced remodeling of the skull is characterized by greater bone volume, mineral density, and mineral content. To further investigate the effects of spaceflight on other non-weight bearing bones of the head, as well as to gain insight into potential factors mediating the remodeling of the skull, the purpose of the present study was to determine the effects of spaceflight on mandibular bone properties. Female C57BL/6 mice were flown 15d on the STS-131 Space Shuttle mission (n=8) and 13d on the STS-135 mission (n=5) or remained as ground controls (GC). Upon landing, mandibles were collected and analyzed via micro-computed tomography for tissue mineralization, bone volume (BV/TV), and distance from the cemento-enamel junction to the alveolar crest (CEJ-AC). Mandibular mineralization was not different between spaceflight (SF) and GC mice for either the STS-131 or STS-135 missions. Mandibular BV/TV (combined cortical and trabecular bone) was lower in mandibles from SF mice on the STS-131 mission (80.7+/-0.8%) relative to that of GC (n=8) animals (84.2+/-1.2%), whereas BV/TV from STS-135 mice was not different from GC animals (n=7). The CEJ-AC distance was shorter in mandibles from STS-131 mice (0.217+/-0.004mm) compared to GC animals (0.283+/-0.009mm), indicating an anabolic (or anti-catabolic) effect of spaceflight, while CEJ-AC distance was similar between STS-135 and GC mice. These findings demonstrate that mandibular bones undergo skeletal changes during spaceflight and are susceptible to the effects of weightlessness. However, adaptation of the mandible to spaceflight is dissimilar to that of the cranium, at least in terms of changes in BV/TV.
AIM: The goal of the study was to evaluate changes in lung status due to spaceflight stressors that include radiation above levels found on Earth.;MATERIALS AND METHODS: Within hours after return from a 13-day mission in space onboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, C57BL/6 mice (FLT group) were euthanized; mice housed on the ground in similar animal enclosure modules served as controls (AEM group). Lung tissue was collected to evaluate the expression of genes related to extracellular matrix (ECM)/adhesion and stem cell signaling. Pathway analysis was also performed. In addition, immunohistochemistry for stem cell antigen-1 (SCA-1), the terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase dUTP nick-end labeling (TUNEL) assay for apoptosis, and staining for histological characteristics were performed.;RESULTS: There were 18/168 genes significantly modulated in lungs from the FLT group (p<0.05 vs. AEM); 17 of these were up-regulated and one was down-regulated. The greatest effect, namely a 5.14-fold increase, was observed on Spock1 (also known as Spark/osteonectin), encoding a multi-functional protein that has anti-adhesive effects, inhibits cell proliferation and regulates activity of certain growth factors. Additional genes with increased expression were cadherin 3 (Cdh3), collagen, type V, alpha 1 (Col5a1), integrin alpha 5 (Itga5), laminin, gamma 1 (Lamc1), matrix metallopeptidase 14 (Mmp14), neural cell adhesion molecule 1 (Ncam1), transforming growth factor, beta induced (Tgfbi), thrombospondin 1 (Thbs1), Thbs2, versican (Vcan), fibroblast growth factor receptor 1 (Fgfr1), frizzled homolog 6 (Fzd6), nicastrin (Ncstn), nuclear factor of activated T-cells, cytoplasmic, calcineurin-dependent 4 (Nfatc4), notch gene homolog 4 (Notch4) and vang-like 2 (Vangl2). The down-regulated gene was Mmp13. Staining for SCA-1 protein showed strong signal intensity in bronchiolar epithelial cells of FLT mice (p<0.05 vs. AEM). TUNEL positivity was also significantly higher in the FLT mice (p<0.05 vs. AEM), but no consistent histological differences were noted. CONCLUSION: The results demonstrate that spaceflight-related stress had a significant impact on lung integrity, indicative of tissue injury and remodeling.
Mechanical unloading in microgravity is thought to induce tissue degeneration by various mechanisms, including inhibition of regenerative stem cell differentiation. To address this hypothesis, we investigated the effects of microgravity on early lineage commitment of mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) using the embryoid body (EB) model of tissue differentiation. We found that exposure to microgravity for 15 days inhibits mESC differentiation and expression of terminal germ layer lineage markers in EBs. Additionally, microgravity-unloaded EBs retained stem cell self-renewal markers, suggesting that mechanical loading at Earth’s gravity is required for normal differentiation of mESCs. Finally, cells recovered from microgravity-unloaded EBs and then cultured at Earth’s gravity showed greater stemness, differentiating more readily into contractile cardiomyocyte colonies. These results indicate that mechanical unloading of stem cells in microgravity inhibits their differentiation and preserves stemness, possibly providing a cellular mechanistic basis for the inhibition of tissue regeneration in space and in disuse conditions on earth.
Spaceflight Effects and Molecular Responses in the Mouse Eye: Preliminary Observations After Shuttle Mission STS-133
Spaceflight exploration presents environmental stressors including microgravity-induced cephalad fluid shift and radiation exposure. Ocular changes leading to visual impairment in astronauts are of occupational health relevance. The effect of this complex environment on ocular morphology and function is poorly understood. Female 10-12 week-old BALB/cJ mice were assigned to a flight (FLT) group flown on shuttle mission STS-133, Animal Enclosure Module ground control group (AEM), or vivarium-housed (VIV) ground controls. Eyes were collected at 1, 5, and 7 days after landing and were fixed for histological sectioning. The contralateral eye was used for gene expression profiling by RT-qPCR. Sections were visualized by hematoxylin/eosin stain and processed for 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine (8-OHdG), caspase-3, and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) and β-amyloid double-staining. 8-OHdG and caspase-3 immunoreactivity was increased in the retina in FLT samples at return from flight (R+1) compared to ground controls, and decreased at day 7 (R+7). Β-amyloid was seen in the nerve fibers at the post-laminar region of the optic nerve in the flight samples (R+7). Expression of oxidative and cellular stress response genes was upregulated in the retina of FLT samples upon landing, followed by lower levels by R+7. These results suggest that reversible molecular damage occurs in the retina of mice exposed to spaceflight and that protective cellular pathways are induced in the retina and optic nerve in response to these changes.
Various environmental stresses elevate the phosphorylation level of eukaryotic translation initiation factor 2 alpha (eIF2α) and induce transcriptional activation of a set of stress responsive genes such as activating transcription factors 3 and 6 (ATF3 and ATF6), CCAAT/enhancer-binding protein homologous protein (CHOP), and Xbp1 (X-box binding protein 1). These stress sources include radiation, oxidation, and stress to the endoplasmic reticulum, and it is recently reported that unloading by hindlimb unloading is such a stress source. No studies, however, have examined the phosphorylation level of eIF2α (eIF2α-p) using skeletal samples that have experienced microgravity in space. In this study we addressed a question: Does a mouse tibia flown in space show altered levels of eIF2α-p? To address this question, we obtained STS-135 flown samples that were harvested 4–7 h after landing. The tibia and femur isolated from hindlimb unloaded mice were employed as non-flight controls. The effects of loading were also investigated in non- flight controls. Results indicate that the level of eIF2α-p of the non-flight controls was elevated during hindlimb unloading and reduced after being released from unloading. Second, the eIF2α-p level of space-flown samples was decreased, and mechanical loading to the tibia caused the reduction of the eIF2α-p level. Third, the mRNA levels of ATF3, ATF6, and CHOP were lowered in space-flown samples as well as in the non-flight samples 4–7 h after being released from unloading. Collectively, the results herein indicated that a release from hindlimb unloading and a return to normal weight environment from space provided a suppressive effect to eIF2α-linked stress responses and that a period of 2–4 h is sufficient to induce this suppressive outcome.
Exposure to long-duration microgravity leads to ocular changes in astronauts, manifested by a variety of signs and symptoms during spaceflight that in some cases persist after return to Earth. These morphological and functional changes are only partly understood and are of occupational health relevance. To investigate further into the molecular basis of the changes occurring in ocular tissue upon exposure to spaceflight, eyes were collected from female C57BL/6 mice flown on STS-135 (FLT) on landing day or from their ground control counterparts maintained at similar conditions within the Animal Enclosure Module (AEM). One eye was fixed for histological sectioning while the contralateral eye was dissected to isolate the retina for gene expression profiling. 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine (8OHdG) staining showed a statistically significant increase in the inner nuclear layer of FLT samples compared to AEM. Gene expression analysis in isolated retina identified 139 differentially expressed genes in FLT compared to AEM control samples. The genes affected were mainly involved in pathways and processes of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, inflammation, neuronal and glial cell loss, axonal degeneration, and herpes virus activation. These results suggest a concerted change in gene expression in the retina of mice flown in space, possibly leading to retinal damage, degeneration, and remodeling.
Erythrocyte and hemoglobin losses have been frequently observed in humans during space missions; these observations have been designated as "space anemia". Erythrocytes exposed to microgravity have a modified rheology and undergo hemolysis to a greater extent. Cell membrane composition plays an important role in determining erythrocyte resistance to mechanical stress and it is well known that membrane composition might be influenced by external events, such as hypothermia, hypoxia or gravitational strength variations. Moreover, an altered cell membrane composition, in particular in fatty acids, can cause a greater sensitivity to peroxidative stress, with increase in membrane fragility. Solar radiation or low wavelength electromagnetic radiations (such as gamma rays) from the Earth or the space environment can split water to generate the hydroxyl radical, very reactive at the site of its formation, which can initiate chain reactions leading to lipid peroxidation. These reactive free radicals can react with the non-radical molecules, leading to oxidative damage of lipids, proteins and DNA, etiologically associated with various diseases and morbidities such as cancer, cell degeneration, and inflammation. Indeed, radiation constitutes on of the most important hazard for humans during long-term space flights. With this background, we participated to the MDS tissue-sharing program performing analyses on mice erythrocytes flown on the ISS from August to November 2009. Our results indicate that space flight induced modifications in cell membrane composition and increase of lipid peroxidation products, in mouse erythrocytes. Moreover, antioxidant defenses in the flight erythrocytes were induced, with a significant increase of glutathione content as compared to both vivarium and ground control erythrocytes. Nonetheless, this induction was not sufficient to prevent damages caused by oxidative stress. Future experiments should provide information helpful to reduce the effects of oxidative stress exposure and space anemia, possibly by integrating appropriate dietary elements and natural compounds that could act as antioxidants.