Effects of Microgravity on Osteoblast Growth

Millie Hughes-Fulford, Raymond Tjandrawinata, Jamie Fitzgerald, Kim Gasuad, Vicki Gilbertson


Studies from space flights over the past two decades have demonstrated that basic physiological changes occur in humans during space flight. These changes include cephalic fluid shifts, loss of fluid and electrolytes, loss of muscle mass, space motion sickness, anemia, reduced immune response, and loss of calcium and mineralized bone. The cause of most of these manifestations is not known and until recently, the general approach was to investigate general systemic changes, not basic cellular responses to microgravity. Recently analyzed data from the 1973-1974 Skylabs disclose that there is a rise in the systemic hormone, cortisol, which may play a role in bone loss in flight. In two flights where bone growth was measured (Skylabs 3 and 4), the crew members had a significant loss of calcium accompanied by a rise in 24 hour urinary cortisol during the entire flight period. In ground-based work on osteoblasts, we have demonstrated that equivalent amounts of glucocorticoids can inhibit osteoblast cell growth. In addition, this laboratory has recently studied gene growth and activation of mouse osteoblasts (MC3T3-E1) during spaceflight. Osteoblast cells were grown on glass coverslips. loaded in the Biorack plunger boxes 18 hours before launch and activated 19 hours after launch in the Biorack incubator under microgravity conditions. The osteoblasts were launched in a serum deprived state, activated and collected in microgravity. Samples were collected at 29 hours after sera activation (0-g, n=4; 1-g, n=4). The osteoblasts were examined for changes in gene expression and cell morphology. Approximately one day after growth activation, remarkable differences were observed in gene expression in 0-g and 1-g flight samples. The 0-g activated cells had increased c-fos mRNA when compared to flight 1-g controls. The message of immediate early growth gene, cox-2 was decreased in the microgravity activated cells when compared to ground or 1-g flight controls. Cox-1 was not detected in any of the samples. There were no significant differences in the expression of actin mRNA between the 0-g and 1-g samples. These data indicate that quiescent osteoblasts are slower to enter the cell cycle in microgravity, suggesting that the force of gravity itself may be a significant factor in bone loss in spaceflight. Preliminary data from our STS 76 flight experiment support our hypothesis that a basic biological response occurs at the tissue, cellular, and molecular level in 0-g. Here we examine ground-based and space flown data on osteoblast growth in ground-based experiments mimicking space flight conditions and in microgravity to simulate lack of gravity stress to help us understand the mechanism of bone loss by experiments.

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