Area journey weakens immune system by altering gene expression in white blood cells


Proof is mounting that astronauts are extra prone to infections whereas in area. For instance, astronauts on board the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) generally undergo from pores and skin rashes, in addition to respiratory and non-respiratory illnesses. Astronauts are additionally recognized to shed extra stay virus particles, for instance Epstein-Barr virus, varicella-zoster liable for shingles, herpes-simplex-1 liable for sores, and cytomegalovirus. These observations counsel that our immune system could be weakened by area journey. However what may trigger such an immune deficit?

“Right here we present that the expression of many genes associated to immune capabilities quickly decreases when astronauts attain area, whereas the other occurs after they return to Earth after six months aboard the ISS,” mentioned Dr Odette Laneuville, an affiliate professor on the Division of Biology of the College of Ottawa, main writer of a brand new research in Frontiers in Immunology. The analysis was funded by the Canadian Area Company.

The analysis was funded by the Canadian Area Company.

The researchers studied gene expression in leukocytes (white blood cells) in a cohort of 14 astronauts, together with three ladies and 11 males, who resided on board the ISS for between 4.5 and 6.5 months between 2015 and 2019. Leukocytes had been remoted from 4 milliliters blood drawn from every astronaut at 10 time factors: as soon as pre-flight, 4 occasions in flight, and 5 occasions again on Earth.

There and again once more

15,410 genes had been discovered to be differentially expressed in leukocytes. Amongst these genes, the researchers recognized two clusters, with 247 and 29 genes respectively, which modified their expression in tandem alongside the studied timeline.

Genes within the first cluster had been dialed down when reaching area and again up when returning to Earth, whereas genes within the second adopted the other sample. Each clusters largely consisted of genes that code for proteins, however with a distinction: their predominant operate was associated to immunity for the genes within the first cluster, and to mobile buildings and capabilities for the second.

These outcomes counsel that when somebody travels to area, these adjustments in gene expression trigger a speedy lower within the power of their immune system.

“A weaker immunity will increase the chance of infectious illnesses, limiting astronauts’ means to carry out their demanding missions in area. If an an infection or an immune-related situation was to evolve to a extreme state requiring medical care, astronauts whereas in area would have restricted entry to care, treatment, or evacuation” mentioned Dr Man Trudel, a rehabilitation doctor and researcher at The Ottawa Hospital and professor on the Division of Mobile and Molecular Drugs of the College of Ottawa.

Return to typical ranges again on Earth

However there’s a silver lining to this cloud: the info confirmed that the majority genes in both cluster returned to their pre-flight degree of expression inside one yr after return on Earth, and usually a lot sooner – on common, after a couple of weeks. These outcomes counsel that returning astronauts run an elevated threat of an infection for no less than one month after touchdown again on Earth.

In distinction, the authors don’t but understand how lengthy it takes earlier than immune resistance is totally again to its pre-flight power: the size of this era is more likely to rely on age, intercourse, genetic variations, and childhood publicity to pathogens.

The authors hypothesized that the change in gene expression of leukocytes below microgravity is triggered by ‘fluid shift’, the place blood plasma is redistributed from the decrease to the higher a part of the physique, together with the lymphatic system. This causes a discount in plasma quantity by between 10% and 15% throughout the first few days in area. Fluid shift is understood to be accompanied by large-scale physiological diversifications, apparently together with altered gene expression.

Prophylaxis towards immune deficits in area

“The subsequent query is the right way to apply our findings to information the design of countermeasures that can forestall immune suppression whereas in area particularly for lengthy length flight,” mentioned Laneuville.

The well being of astronauts whereas in area, particularly throughout lengthy missions, would profit from detecting each immune dysfunction and sub-clinical irritation. Early detection offers alternatives for intervention, with the goal to forestall a development in the direction of extreme signs.”

Dr Odette Laneuville, Affiliate Professor, Division of Biology, College of Ottawa


Journal reference:

Stratis, D., et al. (2023) The transcriptome response of astronaut leukocytes to lengthy missions aboard the Worldwide Area Station reveals immune modulation. Frontiers in Immunology.