The study is supported by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), the Busch Biomedical Research Grant, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and Rutgers Technology Commercialization Fund. Authors on the paper include Dr. Yufang Shi, investigator on NSBRI’s Radiation Effects Team and professor of molecular genetics, microbiology and immunology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Dr. David T. Denhardt, one of the discoverers of OPN, professor of cell biology and neuroscience at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and Kathryn X. Wang, graduate student in the Rutgers Graduate Program in Cell and Developmental Biology.
“Following periods of prolonged physical stress such as when astronauts live in microgravity, white blood cells that fight disease, called lymphocytes, die at an increased rate and immune system organs like the thymus and spleen lose mass and begin to atrophy,” said Dr. Shi.
Immune system organs include the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow.
“By determining the role of lymphocyte death in a stressed immune system, we may be able to develop therapies to maintain a healthy immune system, which can help in space and in clinical settings to prevent and treat malignancy and infections,” Shi said.
It is known that spaceflight and long periods of physiological stress cause changes in the immune system. “Until now, the role of OPN in the stress response of immune organs has never been examined,” Shi said.
Evidence suggests that astronauts may suffer increased rates of infection after flight. Through an animal study, Shi and colleagues simulated spaceflight conditions to investigate its effects on the immune system. They found that infection-fighting white blood cells inappropriately die off in large numbers, leading to immune-organ atrophy and the decreased ability of the immune system to protect the body from illness.
The team studied two types of mice, one group with the normal OPN gene and another group lacking this gene. The mice experienced three days of hindlimb unloading, a widely used technique to simulate the physiologic changes that astronauts experience during spaceflight. With this technique, body fluids shift similarly to how they do in microgravity (toward the head instead of toward the extremities) and immune system changes occur.
Mice of both types made up the control groups, which did not undergo unloading.
After three days, the researchers compared the mice with normal OPN and the OPN-lacking mice. The normal OPN mice experienced weight loss, spleen and thymus atrophy, and a reduced number of white blood cells. In addition, increased levels of corticosterone, a steroid that contributes to the death of white blood cells, were found only in the normal OPN mice studied. By contrast, the mice lacking the OPN gene showed statistically insignificant changes in weight and the levels of corticosterone, and were more similar to the control group.
“White blood cell death in the spleen and thymus was evident only in the mice with normal OPN,” Shi said. “Since white blood cells were dying rather than increasing, that indicates partly why immune system organs atrophy during prolonged physical stress.”
The team concluded that under chronic physical stress, OPN must be present for the increase in corticosterone, which leads to atrophy and white blood cell death.
Shi hopes that this finding will lead to preventative treatments in the future.
“Already we’re researching an antibody that can remove OPN from blood serum. Perhaps one day, we can turn this research into a therapy to counteract white blood cell death in immune system organs and keep humans healthier during times of prolonged physical stress,” Shi said.
Shi and colleagues want to better understand the mechanisms through which stress affects the immune system, so they can prevent illness in space and help those who suffer from illness following physiological stress here on Earth.
NSBRI projects address space health concerns such as bone and muscle loss, cardiovascular changes, balance problems, sleep disturbances, radiation exposure, nutrition, physical fitness, rehabilitation, remote-treatment medical technologies, and neurobehavioral and psychosocial factors. Research findings will also impact the understanding and treatment of similar medical conditions experienced on Earth.
NSBRI, funded by NASA, is a consortium of institutions studying the health risks related to long-duration spaceflight. The Institute’s science, technology and education projects take place at more than 70 institutions across the United States.
Lauren Hammit | NSBRI
The importance of biodiversity in forests could increase due to climate change
17.11.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Win-win strategies for climate and food security
02.10.2017 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
The WHO reports an estimated 429,000 malaria deaths each year. The disease mostly affects tropical and subtropical regions and in particular the African continent. The Fraunhofer Institute for Silicate Research ISC teamed up with the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen for a new test method to detect malaria parasites in blood. The idea of the research project “NanoFRET” is to develop a highly sensitive and reliable rapid diagnostic test so that patient treatment can begin as early as possible.
Malaria is caused by parasites transmitted by mosquito bite. The most dangerous form of malaria is malaria tropica. Left untreated, it is fatal in most cases....
The formation of stars in distant galaxies is still largely unexplored. For the first time, astron-omers at the University of Geneva have now been able to closely observe a star system six billion light-years away. In doing so, they are confirming earlier simulations made by the University of Zurich. One special effect is made possible by the multiple reflections of images that run through the cosmos like a snake.
Today, astronomers have a pretty accurate idea of how stars were formed in the recent cosmic past. But do these laws also apply to older galaxies? For around a...
Just because someone is smart and well-motivated doesn't mean he or she can learn the visual skills needed to excel at tasks like matching fingerprints, interpreting medical X-rays, keeping track of aircraft on radar displays or forensic face matching.
That is the implication of a new study which shows for the first time that there is a broad range of differences in people's visual ability and that these...
Computer Tomography (CT) is a standard procedure in hospitals, but so far, the technology has not been suitable for imaging extremely small objects. In PNAS, a team from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) describes a Nano-CT device that creates three-dimensional x-ray images at resolutions up to 100 nanometers. The first test application: Together with colleagues from the University of Kassel and Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht the researchers analyzed the locomotory system of a velvet worm.
During a CT analysis, the object under investigation is x-rayed and a detector measures the respective amount of radiation absorbed from various angles....
The quantum world is fragile; error correction codes are needed to protect the information stored in a quantum object from the deteriorating effects of noise. Quantum physicists in Innsbruck have developed a protocol to pass quantum information between differently encoded building blocks of a future quantum computer, such as processors and memories. Scientists may use this protocol in the future to build a data bus for quantum computers. The researchers have published their work in the journal Nature Communications.
Future quantum computers will be able to solve problems where conventional computers fail today. We are still far away from any large-scale implementation,...
15.11.2017 | Event News
15.11.2017 | Event News
30.10.2017 | Event News
21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.11.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.11.2017 | Life Sciences