Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Immune system is dazed and confused during spaceflight, study reveals

Date:
August 18, 2014
Source:
NASA/Johnson Space Center
Summary:
Research indicates that crew members aboard the International Space Station have changes in blood cytokines that persist during flight.

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, Expedition 32 flight engineer, poses for a photo after undergoing a generic blood draw in the European Laboratory/Columbus Orbital Facility. International Space Station crew members routinely perform blood draws for investigations.
Credit: NASA

There is nothing like a head cold to make us feel a little dazed. We get things like colds and the flu because of changes in our immune system. Researchers have a good idea what causes immune system changes on Earth -- think stress, inadequate sleep and improper nutrition. But the results of two NASA collaborative investigations -- Validation of Procedures for Monitoring Crewmember Immune Function (Integrated Immune) and Clinical Nutrition Assessment of ISS Astronauts, SMO-016E (Clinical Nutrition Assessment) -- recently published in the Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research suggest that spaceflight may temporarily alter the immune system of crew members flying long duration missions aboard the International Space Station. This is of concern as NASA looks ahead to six-month and multiple-year missions to asteroids, the moon and Mars because something as simple as a cold or the flu can be risky business in space.

Data generated early in NASA's Integrated Immune study indicated that the distribution of immune cells in the blood of crew members aboard the space station is relatively unchanged during flight. However, they also revealed that some cell function is significantly lower than normal, or depressed, and some cell activity is heightened. In a sense, the immune systems of crew members are confused.

When cell activity is depressed, the immune system is not generating appropriate responses to threats. This may also lead to the asymptomatic viral shedding observed in some crew members, which means latent, or dormant, viruses in the body reawaken, but without symptoms of illness. When activity heightens, the immune system reacts excessively, resulting in things like increased allergy symptoms and persistent rashes, which have been reported by some crew members.

"Prior to the Integrated Immune study, little immune system in-flight data had been collected," said Brian Crucian, Ph.D. and NASA biological studies and immunology expert. "Previous post-flight studies were not enough to make any determination about spaceflight's effect on the immune system. This in-flight data provided the information we needed to determine that immune dysregulation does occur and actually persists during long-duration spaceflight."

Recently, in a collaboration between NASA's Integrated Immune and Clinical Nutrition Assessment flight studies, researchers examined the blood plasma of 28 crew members before, during and after their missions. They were measuring for the concentration of cytokines -- the proteins that regulate immunity. Cytokines recruit immune cells to the infected or injured body site, facilitate cell-to-cell communication, and signal immune cells to activate and mount a defense against invaders. This process is usually referred to as inflammation. The data indicated that, like the changes in cell function indicated in the Integrated Immune study, crew members also have changes in blood cytokines that persist during flight. This gives researchers an idea of what areas of a crew member's immune system may be confused during flight.

According to Crucian, the immune system is likely being altered by many factors associated with the overall spaceflight environment. "Things like radiation, microbes, stress, microgravity, altered sleep cycles and isolation could all have an effect on crew member immune systems," said Crucian. "If this situation persisted for longer deep space missions, it could possibly increase risk of infection, hypersensitivity, or autoimmune issues for exploration astronauts."

Despite these immune system changes, it has yet to be determined whether these alterations increase crew risk for medical issues during spaceflight. According to Crucian, further investigations are required to precisely assess whether there is increased clinical risk to crew members on longer duration missions.

NASA Human Research Program Chief Scientist Mark Shelhamer says continued study of the immune system is critical. "These studies tell us that this is an important issue and that we are measuring the right things," said Shelhamer. "They also tell us there is no place during spaceflight where we see stabilization of the immune system. This is critical as we pursue longer duration missions and why we are studying this further during the upcoming one-year mission."

Once these investigations are complete, Crucian expects the agency will have a decision point for establishing countermeasures that it must then decide how to implement. If deemed necessary, countermeasures for immunity could include new types of radiation shielding, nutritional supplementation, pharmaceuticals and more.

Studies of how space flight affects the immune system may provide benefits to Earth-based medicine. This includes information on how stress causes immune system changes in healthy adults, changes that may precede disease.

In the end, NASA may just shift the immune system during spaceflight from dazed to unfazed.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by NASA/Johnson Space Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Brian E. Crucian, Sara R. Zwart, Satish Mehta, Peter Uchakin, Heather D. Quiriarte, Duane Pierson, Clarence F. Sams, Scott M. Smith. Plasma Cytokine Concentrations Indicate ThatIn VivoHormonal Regulation of Immunity Is Altered During Long-Duration Spaceflight. Journal of Interferon & Cytokine Research, 2014; 140404131153005 DOI: 10.1089/jir.2013.0129

Cite This Page:

NASA/Johnson Space Center. "Immune system is dazed and confused during spaceflight, study reveals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140818135124.htm>.
NASA/Johnson Space Center. (2014, August 18). Immune system is dazed and confused during spaceflight, study reveals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140818135124.htm
NASA/Johnson Space Center. "Immune system is dazed and confused during spaceflight, study reveals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140818135124.htm (accessed September 20, 2014).

Share This



More Health & Medicine News

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Sierra Leone's Nationwide Ebola Curfew Underway

Sierra Leone's Nationwide Ebola Curfew Underway

Newsy (Sep. 20, 2014) Sierra Leone is locked down as aid workers and volunteers look for new cases of Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Changes Found In Brain After One Dose Of Antidepressants

Changes Found In Brain After One Dose Of Antidepressants

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) A study suggest antidepressants can kick in much sooner than previously thought. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Could Grief Affect The Immune Systems Of Senior Citizens?

Newsy (Sep. 19, 2014) The study found elderly people are much more likely to become susceptible to infection than younger adults going though a similar situation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

Jury Delivers Verdict in Salmonella Trial

AP (Sep. 19, 2014) A federal jury has convicted three people in connection with an outbreak of salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths. (Sept. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins