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Gravitational physiology of human immune cells: a review of in vivo, ex vivo and in vitro studiesThe study of the function of immune cells in microgravity has been studied for more than 20 years in several laboratories. It is clear today that the immune system is depressed in more than 50% of the astronauts during and after space flight and that the activation of T lymphocytes by mitogens in vitro changes dramatically. This article gives an overview of the gravitational studies conducted by our laboratory in Spacelab, in MIR station, in sounding rockets and on the ground in the clinostat and the centrifuge. Three experimental approaches are followed in our work: (i) Ex vivo studies are performed with blood samples drawn from astronauts; (ii) in vivo studies are based on the application of seven antigens to the skin of the astronauts; (iii) in vitro studies are carried out with immune cells purified from the blood of healthy donors (not astronauts). The data from our in vivo and ex vivo studies are in agreement with those of other laboratories and show that the immunological function is depressed in the majority of astronauts as a consequence of the stress of space flight rather than by a direct influence of gravity on the cell. Immune depression may become a critical hazard on long duration flights on space stations or to other planets. In vitro experiments show that cultures of free-floating lymphocytes and monocytes undergo a dramatic depression of activation by the mitogen concanavalin A, while activation is more than doubled when the cells are attached to microcarrier beads. Such effects may be attributed to both direct and indirect effects of gravitational unloading on basic biological mechanisms of the cell. While the in vitro data are very important to clarify certain aspects of the biological mechanism of T cells activation, they are not descriptive of the changes of the immunological function of the astronauts.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Cogoli, A.
(Space Biology, ETH Technopark, Zurich, Switzerland)
Date Acquired
August 21, 2013
Publication Date
April 1, 1996
Publication Information
Publication: Journal of gravitational physiology : a journal of the International Society for Gravitational Physiology
Volume: 3
Issue: 1
ISSN: 1077-9248
Subject Category
Aerospace Medicine
Funding Number(s)
CONTRACT_GRANT: 31-25181.88
CONTRACT_GRANT: Nr. 3.338-0.86
Distribution Limits
Review, Tutorial
Flight Experiment
STS-42 Shuttle Project
long duration
Non-NASA Center
STS-40 Shuttle Project
STS-9 Shuttle Project
short duration
Mir Project
STS-61A Shuttle Project
NASA Discipline Number 00-00
NASA Discipline Regulatory Physiology
NASA Program Flight

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