Spaceflight is known to impact human physiology, but the distinct molecular aetiologies are unknown. In a recent study, published in Cell, researchers used a multi-omics approach to gain insight into the fundamental biological mechanisms affected by spaceflight.
Impact of spaceflight
We are on the brink of a new era in space exploration. NASA and other international and private partners are planning on returning to the Moon and sending humans to Mars. Exposure to space radiation and microgravity are primary hazards to astronauts’ health in long-duration space missions. Astronauts who have returned from missions on the ISS have presented with several health issues. These include bone and muscle loss, central nervous system issues, immune dysfunction and cardiovascular health risks. Future successful long-duration space explorations will require a comprehensive understanding of the impact of spaceflight on human biology. As a result, experts could use this knowledge to design efficient countermeasures that would benefit astronauts and also the health of people on Earth.
In this study, researchers performed an integrated analysis of mammalian space biology by harnessing the power of multiple omics platforms. They utilised biomedical profiles from 59 astronauts, data from NASA’s GeneLab omics database derived from samples flown in space and also data from NASA’s Twin Study. The team wanted to determine transcriptomic, proteomic, metabolomic and epigenetic responses to spaceflight.
Overall, they found that pathway analyses on the multi-omics datasets revealed significant enrichment for mitochondrial processes. There was also enrichment for innate immunity, chronic inflammation, cell cycle, circadian rhythm and olfactory functions. NASA’s Twin Study confirmed several of these principal findings. Evidence from urine and blood metabolic data from the astronaut cohort and Twin Study data revealed altered mitochondrial function and DNA damage.
These findings indicate mitochondrial stress as a consistent phenotype of spaceflight. This has implications for astronauts undertaking long-duration space missions and also could be translated to health outcomes on Earth. For example, radiologists could tailor radiation therapy for cancer patients in different ways to protect normal tissue. It is important that researchers consider the health effects from mitochondrial dysfunction in spaceflight health risk models when planning future space missions.
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