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Gravity Plays an Important Role in Muscle Development and the Differentiation of Contractile Protein PhenotypeSeveral muscles in the body exist mainly to work against gravity. Whether gravity is important in the development of these muscles is not known. By examining the basic proteins that compose muscle, questions about the role of gravity in muscle development can be answered. Myosin heavy chains (MHCs) are a family of proteins critically important for muscle contraction. Several types of MHCs exist (e.g., neonatal, slow, fast), and each type is produced by a particular gene. Neonatal MHCs are produced early in life. Slow MHCs are important in antigravity muscles, and fast MHCs are found in fast-twitch power muscles. The gene that is turned on or expressed will determine which MHC is produced. Early in development, antigravity skeletal muscles (muscles that work against gravity) normally produce a combination of the neonatal/embryonic MHCs. The expression of these primitive MHCs is repressed early in development; and the adult slow and fast MHC genes become fully expressed. We tested the hypothesis that weightbearing activity is critical for inducing the normal expression of the slow MHC gene typically expressed in adult antigravity muscles. Also, we hypothesized that thyroid hormone, but not opposition to gravity, is necessary for expressing the adult fast IIb MHC gene essential for high-intensity muscle performance. Groups of normal thyroid and thyroid-deficient neonatal rats were studied after their return from the 16-day Neurolab mission and compared to matched controls. The results suggest: (1) Weightlessness impaired body and limb skeletal muscle growth in both normal and thyroid-deficient animals. Antigravity muscles were impaired more than those used primarily for locomotion andor nonweightbearing activity. (2) Systemic and muscle expression of insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), an important body and tissue growth factor, was depressed in flight animals. (3) Normal slow, type I MHC gene expression was markedly repressed in the normal thyroid flight group. (4) Fast IIb MHC gene expression was enhanced in fast-twitch muscles of normal thyroid animals exposed to spaceflight; however, thyroid deficiency markedly repressed expression of this gene independently of spaceflight. In summary, the absence of gravity, when imposed at critical stages of development, impaired body and skeletal muscle growth, as well as expression of the MHC gene family of motor proteins. This suggests that normal weightbearing activity is essential for establishing body and muscle growth in neonatal animals, and for expressing the motor gene essential for supporting antigravity functions.
Document ID
Document Type
Adams, Gregory A. (California Univ. Irvine, CA, United States)
Haddad, Fadia (California Univ. Irvine, CA, United States)
Baldwin, Kenneth M. (California Univ. Irvine, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
September 7, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 2003
Publication Information
Publication: The Neurolab Spacelab Mission: Neuroscience Research in Space: Results from the STS-90, Neurolab Spacelab Mission
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.

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IDRelationTitle20030068190Analytic PrimaryThe Neurolab Spacelab Mission: Neuroscience Research in Space: Results from the STS-90, Neurolab Spacelab Mission