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Suppression of T lymphocyte activation in simulated microgravity

[email protected] Texas Medical Center
Publication Date
  • Engineering
  • Aerospace|Health Sciences
  • Immunology
  • Biology
  • Psychology


Immune dysfunction is encountered during spaceflight. Various aspects of spaceflight, including microgravity, cosmic radiation, and both physiological and psychological stress, may perturb immune function. We sought to understand the impact of microgravity alone on the cellular mechanisms critical to immunity. Clinostatic RWV bioreactors that simulate aspects of microgravity were used to analyze the response of human PBMC to polyclonal and oligoclonal activation. PHA responsiveness in the RWV bioreactor was almost completely diminished. IL-2 and IFN-$\gamma$ secretion was reduced whereas IL-1$\beta$ and IL-6 secretion was increased, suggesting that monocytes may not be as adversely affected by simulated microgravity as T cells. Activation marker expression (CD25, CD69, CD71) was significantly reduced in RWV cultures. Furthermore, addition of exogenous IL-2 to these cultures did not restore proliferation. Antigen specific T cell activation, including the mixed-lymphocyte reaction, tetanus toxoid responsiveness, and Borrelia activation of a specific T cell line, was also suppressed in the RWV bioreactor.^ The role of altered culture conditions in the suppression of T cell activation were considered. Potential reduced cell-cell and cell-substratum interactions in the RWV bioreactor may play a role in the loss of PHA responsiveness. However, PHA activation in Teflon culture bags that limit cell-substratum interactions was not affected. Furthermore, increasing cell-population density, and therefore cell-cell interactions, in the RWV cultures did not help restore PHA activation. However, placing PBMC within small collagen beads did partially restore PHA responsiveness. Finally, activation of purified T cells with crosslinked CD2/CD28 or CD3/CD28 antibody pairs, which does not require costimulation through cell-cell contact, was completely suppressed in the RWV bioreactor suggesting a defect internal to the T cell.^ Activation of both PBMC and purified T cells with PMA and ionomycin was unaffected by RWV culture, indicating that signaling mechanisms downstream of PKC activation and calcium flux are not sensitive to simulated microgravity. Furthermore, sub-mitogenic doses of PMA alone but not ionomycin alone restored PHA responsiveness of PBMC in RWV culture. Thus, our data indicate that during polyclonal activation in simulated microgravity, there is a specific dysfunction within the T cell involving the signaling pathways upstream of PKC activation. ^

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