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
WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
25.05.2018 | Life Sciences
25.05.2018 | Interdisciplinary Research
24.05.2018 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation