Paula Cleggett-Haleim Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

July 24, 1992 (Phone: 202/453-8400) Jane Hutchison Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. (Phone: 415/604-4968) RELEASE: 92-124 HOW LIFE ADAPTS TO SPACE

MISSION RESULTS:

Human, plant and animal cells exposed to the microgravity of space for only a few days show changes in function and structure, according to NASA scientists. Although preliminary, the results of the recent life sciences research on the space shuttle suggest alterations in metabolism, immune cell function, cell division and cell attachment. "This type of research is important not only in helping us understand how life adapts to the weightlessness of space, but also in increasing our knowledge of basic cell function and thus contribute to the well-being of life on Earth," said Dr. Thora Halstead, Manager of NASA's Space Biology Program. Dr. Gerald Sonnenfeld of the University of Louisville, Kentucky, reports that after nine days in space, human immune cells failed to differentiate into mature effector cells. The results of his investigation into how the stress of space flight affects immune system cells suggest that the stress of space flight can alter normal metabolic activities and important aspects of immune cell function. "The failure of the body to produce mature, fully differentiated cells in space may lead to health problems, including impaired healing abilities and increased risk of infection," he said. - more - 2 "Bone-forming cells exposed to microgravity also show changes," said Dr. Emily Morey-Holton of NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. Her study of how exposure to

microgravity changes the size, shape and cellular components of rat bone cells revealed a significant number of floating, dead bone-forming cells. "Bone cells die if they can't attach to something," Morey-Holton said. "That we found so many unattached, dead cells may indicate that gravity is required to show the cells where to attach. This finding could be significant since many biological processes, both in single cells and in multicelled organisms, depend on cell attachment and recognition processes." She added that the attached bone cells, although healthy, showed no signs of producing mineral. "It may be that bone cells don't need to form mineral to support themselves in microgravity," she said. Morey-Holton and Sonnenfeld both used a novel computerized cell culture incubator (the Space Tissue Loss Module) to keep their cultures alive. The module, developed by Dr. William Weismann of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., was designed specifically for studying the metabolic activities of cells in space. "The successful operation of the STL Module signified a landmark technological achievement in our ability to study cell functions during space flight," Halstead said. Plant cells also respond to microgravity, according to Dr. Abraham Krikorian of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. "There is increasing evidence that cells in the roots of plants subjected to space flight undergo major changes in their cell division profile, even after as few as four days in space," he said. "One particularly important consideration is that cells be able to divide efficiently and to partition their genetic information with high fidelity," he said. "In short, they have to get their signals straight and to process them accurately." He noted that in one plant (Haplopappus gracilis) that has only four chromosomes, overall root production was significantly faster under space flight conditions. He also said that changes in chromosomes were found in up to one-third of the cells that flew in space.

- more - 3 Dr. Pauline J. Duke of the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston also found differences between mouse bone cells developed in space and on the ground. She said the cells in microgravity showed changes in attachment.

"The surfaces of flight cells were smoother than those of ground-based controls, indicating that matrix production or secretion is altered during space flight, probably as a direct result of microgravity exposure," she said. "Matrix forms the basic structure of bone." Dukes experiment, the first culture of skeletal cells in space, was designed to determine whether cells sensitive to gravitational changes in the whole animal and in organ culture retained that sensitivity in cell culture. Although Halstead is pleased with the results of these studies, she said there is still much to learn. "We are just beginning to understand how cells function in space," she said. "A more thorough understanding will come only after much more research. We are looking to Space Station Freedom to give us the opportunities to conduct the long-term studies that ultimately may hold the key to this basic component of life," she said. The results of these studies will be reported Monday, July 27, 1992, at a workshop on Cellular Response to Microgravity as part of the Fifth International Congress on Cell Biology in Madrid, Spain. - end -