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Immune System Dysregulation Following Short- vs Long-Duration Spaceflight

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Crucian BE, Stowe RP, Pierson DL, Sams CF. Immune system dysregulation following short- vs long-duration spaceflight. Aviat Space Environ Med 2008; 79:835–43.

Introduction: Immune system dysregulation has been demonstrated to occur during and immediately following spaceflight. If found to persist during lengthy flights, this phenomenon could be a serious health risk to crewmembers participating in lunar or Mars missions. Methods: A comprehensive postflight immune assessment was performed on 17 short-duration Space Shuttle crewmembers and 8 long-duration International Space Station (ISS) crewmembers. Testing consisted of peripheral leukocyte subset analysis, early T cell activation potential, and intracellular/secreted cytokine profiles. Results: For Shuttle crewmembers, the distribution of the peripheral leukocyte subsets was found to be altered postflight. Early T cell activation was elevated postflight; however, the percentage of T cell subsets capable of being stimulated to produce IL-2 and IFN was decreased. The ratio of secreted IFN:IL-10 following T cell stimulation declined after landing, indicating a Th2 shift. For the ISS crewmembers, some alterations in peripheral leukocyte distribution were also detected after landing. In contrast to Shuttle crewmembers, the ISS crewmembers demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in early T cell activation potential immediately postflight. The percentage of T cells capable of producing IL-2 was reduced, but IFN percentages were unchanged. A reduction in the secreted IFN:IL-10 ratio (Th2 shift) was also observed postflight in the ISS crewmembers. Conclusion: These data indicate that consistent peripheral phenotype changes and altered cytokine production profiles occur following spaceflight of both short and long duration; however, functional immune dysregulation may vary related to mission duration. In addition, a detectable Th2 cytokine shift appears to be associated with spaceflight.
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Keywords: cytokines; immune function; microgravity

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 September 2008

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