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Daytona Beach


Human Factors and Behavioral Neurobiology

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Short-term and long-term spaceflight missions can cause immune system dysfunction in astronauts. Recent studies indicate elevated white blood cells (WBC) and polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMN) in astronaut blood, along with unchanged or reduced lymphocyte counts, and reduced T cell function, during short-(days) and long-(months) term spaceflight. A high PMN to lymphocyte ratio (NLR) can acts as a strong predictor of poor prognosis in cancer, and as a biomarker for subclinical inflammation in humans and chronic stress in mouse models, however, the NLR has not yet been identified as a predictor of astronaut health during spaceflight. For this, complete blood cell count data collected from astronauts and rodents that have flown for short and long-term missions on board the International Space Station (ISS) was repurposed to determine the NLR pre-, in-, and post-flight. The results displayed that the NLR progressively increased during spaceflight in both human and mice, while a spike in the NLR was observed at post-flight landing, suggesting stress-induced factors may be involved. In addition, the ground based chronic microgravity analog, hindlimb unloading in mice, indicated an increased NLR, along with induced myeloperoxidase expression, as measured by quantitative (q)PCR. The mechanism for increased NLR was further assessed in vitro using the NASA-developed rotating wall vessel (RWV) cell culture suspension system with human WBCs. The results indicated that simulated microgravity led to increased mature PMN counts, NLR profiles, and production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). Collectively, these studies show that an increased NLR is observed in spaceflight missions, and in chronic microgravity-analog simulation in mice, and that this effect may be potentiated by the oxidative stress response in blood cells under microgravity conditions. Furthermore, these results suggest that a disrupted NLR profile in spaceflight may further disrupt immune homeostasis, potentially causing chronic immune-mediated inflammatory diseases. Thus, we propose that the health status of astronauts during short- and long-term space missions can be monitored by their NLR profile, in addition to utilizing this measurement as a tool for interventions and countermeasure development to restore homeostatic immunity.


Rockville, MD

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Dr. Paul was not affiliated with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University at the time this paper was published.