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Latent Herpes Viruses Reactivation in AstronautsSpace flight has many adverse effects on human physiology. Changes in multiple systems, including the cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, neurovestibular, endocrine, and immune systems have occurred (12, 32, 38, 39). Alterations in drug pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics (12), nutritional needs (31), renal stone formation (40), and microbial flora (2) have also been reported. Evidence suggests that the magnitude of some changes may increase with time in space. A variety of changes in immunity have been reported during both short (.16 days) and long (>30 days) space missions. However, it is difficult to determine the medical significance of these immunological changes in astronauts. Astronauts are in excellent health and in superb physical condition. Illnesses in astronauts during space flight are not common, are generally mild, and rarely affect mission objectives. In an attempt to clarify this issue, we identified the latent herpes viruses as medically important indicators of the effects of space flight on immunity. This chapter demonstrates that space flight leads to asymptomatic reactivation of latent herpes viruses, and proposes that this results from marked changes in neuroendocrine function and immunity caused by the inherent stressfullness of human space flight. Astronauts experience uniquely stressful environments during space flight. Potential stressors include confinement in an unfamiliar, crowded environment, isolation, separation from family, anxiety, fear, sleep deprivation, psychosocial issues, physical exertion, noise, variable acceleration forces, increased radiation, and others. Many of these are intermittent and variable in duration and intensity, but variable gravity forces (including transitions from launch acceleration to microgravity and from microgravity to planetary gravity) and variable radiation levels are part of each mission and contribute to a stressful environment that cannot be duplicated on Earth. Radiation outside the Earth's magnetosphere is particularly worrisome because it includes ionizing radiation from cosmic galactic radiation. Increased stress levels appear even before flight, presumably from the rigors of preflight training and the anticipation of the mission (12, 32, 38, 39). Space flight causes significant changes in human immune function (32), but the means by which these changes come about have been difficult to discern. Consistent indicators of stress associated with space flight include increased production of stress hormones, and changes in cells of the immune system. These changes include elevated white blood cell (WBC) and neutrophil counts at landing (15, 16, 35, 37). Activation of generalized stress responses before, during, and after space flight probably affects the function of the immune system. Space flight has been shown to decrease many aspects of immune function, including natural killer (NK) cell activity, interferon production, the blastogenic response of leukocytes to mitogens, cell-mediated immunity, neutrophil function and monocyte function (5, 16, 18, 21, 35-37).
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
Mehta, Satish K. (Enterprise Advisory Services, Inc. Houston, TX, United States)
Pierson, Duane L. (NASA Johnson Space Center Houston, TX, United States)
Date Acquired
August 24, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2008
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Funding Number(s)
OTHER: 111-30-10-06
OTHER: 111-30-10-03
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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