Development of a step-down method for altering male C57BL/6 mouse housing density and hierarchical structure: Preparations for spaceflight studies.
ABSTRACT: This study was initiated as a component of a larger undertaking designed to study bone healing in microgravity aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Spaceflight experimentation introduces multiple challenges not seen in ground studies, especially with regard to physical space, limited resources, and inability to easily reproduce results. Together, these can lead to diminished statistical power and increased risk of failure. It is because of the limited space, and need for improved statistical power by increasing sample size over historical numbers, NASA studies involving mice require housing mice at densities higher than recommended in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (National Research Council, 2011). All previous NASA missions in which mice were co-housed, involved female mice; however, in our spaceflight studies examining bone healing, male mice are required for optimal experimentation. Additionally, the logistics associated with spaceflight hardware and our study design necessitated variation of density and cohort make up during the experiment. This required the development of a new method to successfully co-house male mice while varying mouse density and hierarchical structure. For this experiment, male mice in an experimental housing schematic of variable density (Spaceflight Correlate) analogous to previously established NASA spaceflight studies was compared to a standard ground based housing schematic (Normal Density Controls) throughout the experimental timeline. We hypothesized that mice in the Spaceflight Correlate group would show no significant difference in activity, aggression, or stress when compared to Normal Density Controls. Activity and aggression were assessed using a novel activity scoring system (based on prior literature, validated in-house) and stress was assessed via body weights, organ weights, and veterinary assessment. No significant differences were detected between the Spaceflight Correlate group and the Normal Density Controls in activity, aggression, body weight, or organ weight, which was confirmed by veterinary assessments. Completion of this study allowed for clearance by NASA of our bone healing experiments aboard the ISS, and our experiment was successfully launched February 19, 2017 on SpaceX CRS-10.
Project description:Secondary lymphoid organs are critical for regulating acquired immune responses. The aim of this study was to characterize the impact of spaceflight on secondary lymphoid organs at the molecular level. We analysed the spleens and lymph nodes from mice flown aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit for 35 days, as part of a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency mission. During flight, half of the mice were exposed to 1 g by centrifuging in the ISS, to provide information regarding the effect of microgravity and 1 g exposure during spaceflight. Whole-transcript cDNA sequencing (RNA-Seq) analysis of the spleen suggested that erythrocyte-related genes regulated by the transcription factor GATA1 were significantly down-regulated in ISS-flown vs. ground control mice. GATA1 and Tal1 (regulators of erythropoiesis) mRNA expression was consistently reduced by approximately half. These reductions were not completely alleviated by 1 g exposure in the ISS, suggesting that the combined effect of space environments aside from microgravity could down-regulate gene expression in the spleen. Additionally, plasma immunoglobulin concentrations were slightly altered in ISS-flown mice. Overall, our data suggest that spaceflight might disturb the homeostatic gene expression of the spleen through a combination of microgravity and other environmental changes.
Project description:Extended spaceflight has been shown to adversely affect astronaut visual acuity. The purpose of this study was to determine whether spaceflight alters gene expression profiles and induces oxidative damage in the retina. Ten week old adult C57BL/6 male mice were flown aboard the ISS for 35 days and returned to Earth alive. Ground control mice were maintained on Earth under identical environmental conditions. Within 38 (+/-4) hours after splashdown, mice ocular tissues were collected for analysis. RNA sequencing detected 600 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in murine spaceflight retinas, which were enriched for genes related to visual perception, the phototransduction pathway, and numerous retina and photoreceptor phenotype categories. Twelve DEGs were associated with retinitis pigmentosa, characterized by dystrophy of the photoreceptor layer rods and cones. Differentially expressed transcription factors indicated changes in chromatin structure, offering clues to the observed phenotypic changes. Immunofluorescence assays showed degradation of cone photoreceptors and increased retinal oxidative stress. Total retinal, retinal pigment epithelium, and choroid layer thickness were significantly lower after spaceflight. These results indicate that retinal performance may decrease over extended periods of spaceflight and cause visual impairment.
Project description:Interest in space habitation has grown dramatically with planning underway for the first human transit to Mars. Despite a robust history of domestic and international spaceflight research, understanding behavioral adaptation to the space environment for extended durations is scant. Here we report the first detailed behavioral analysis of mice flown in the NASA Rodent Habitat on the International Space Station (ISS). Following 4-day transit from Earth to ISS, video images were acquired on orbit from 16- and 32-week-old female mice. Spaceflown mice engaged in a full range of species-typical behaviors. Physical activity was greater in younger flight mice as compared to identically-housed ground controls, and followed the circadian cycle. Within 7-10 days after launch, younger (but not older), mice began to exhibit distinctive circling or 'race-tracking' behavior that evolved into coordinated group activity. Organized group circling behavior unique to spaceflight may represent stereotyped motor behavior, rewarding effects of physical exercise, or vestibular sensation produced via self-motion. Affording mice the opportunity to grab and run in the RH resembles physical activities that the crew participate in routinely. Our approach yields a useful analog for better understanding human responses to spaceflight, providing the opportunity to assess how physical movement influences responses to microgravity.
Project description:We evaluated the performance of the MinION DNA sequencer in-flight on the International Space Station (ISS), and benchmarked its performance off-Earth against the MinION, Illumina MiSeq, and PacBio RS II sequencing platforms in terrestrial laboratories. Samples contained equimolar mixtures of genomic DNA from lambda bacteriophage, Escherichia coli (strain K12, MG1655) and Mus musculus (female BALB/c mouse). Nine sequencing runs were performed aboard the ISS over a 6-month period, yielding a total of 276,882 reads with no apparent decrease in performance over time. From sequence data collected aboard the ISS, we constructed directed assemblies of the ~4.6 Mb E. coli genome, ~48.5 kb lambda genome, and a representative M. musculus sequence (the ~16.3 kb mitochondrial genome), at 100%, 100%, and 96.7% consensus pairwise identity, respectively; de novo assembly of the E. coli genome from raw reads yielded a single contig comprising 99.9% of the genome at 98.6% consensus pairwise identity. Simulated real-time analyses of in-flight sequence data using an automated bioinformatic pipeline and laptop-based genomic assembly demonstrated the feasibility of sequencing analysis and microbial identification aboard the ISS. These findings illustrate the potential for sequencing applications including disease diagnosis, environmental monitoring, and elucidating the molecular basis for how organisms respond to spaceflight.
Project description:Spaceflight has been shown to suppress the adaptive immune response, altering the distribution and function of lymphocyte populations. B lymphocytes express highly specific and highly diversified receptors, known as immunoglobulins (Ig), that directly bind and neutralize pathogens. Ig diversity is achieved through the enzymatic splicing of gene segments within the genomic DNA of each B cell in a host. The collection of Ig specificities within a host, or Ig repertoire, has been increasingly characterized in both basic research and clinical settings using high-throughput sequencing technology (HTS). We utilized HTS to test the hypothesis that spaceflight affects the B-cell repertoire. To test this hypothesis, we characterized the impact of spaceflight on the unimmunized Ig repertoire of C57BL/6 mice that were flown aboard the International Space Station (ISS) during the Rodent Research One validation flight in comparison to ground controls. Individual gene segment usage was similar between ground control and flight animals, however, gene segment combinations and the junctions in which gene segments combine was varied among animals within and between treatment groups. We also found that spontaneous somatic mutations in the IgH and Ig? gene loci were not increased. These data suggest that space flight did not affect the B cell repertoire of mice flown and housed on the ISS over a short period of time.
Project description:The distance and duration of human spaceflight missions is set to markedly increase over the coming decade as we prepare to send astronauts to Mars. However, the health impact of long-term exposure to cosmic radiation and microgravity is not fully understood. In order to identify the molecular mechanisms underpinning the effects of space travel on human health, we must develop the capacity to monitor changes in gene expression and DNA integrity in space. Here, we report successful implementation of three molecular biology procedures on board the International Space Station (ISS) using a miniaturized thermal cycler system and C. elegans as a model organism: first, DNA extraction-the initial step for any type of DNA analysis; second, reverse transcription of RNA to generate complementary DNA (cDNA); and third, the subsequent semi-quantitative PCR amplification of cDNA to analyze gene expression changes in space. These molecular procedures represent a significant expansion of the budding molecular biology capabilities of the ISS and will permit more complex analyses of space-induced genetic changes during spaceflight missions aboard the ISS and beyond.
Project description:Spaceflight introduces a combination of environmental stressors, including microgravity, ionizing radiation, changes in diet and altered atmospheric gas composition. In order to understand the impact of each environmental component on astronauts it is important to investigate potential influences in isolation. Rodent spaceflight experiments involve both standard vivarium cages and animal enclosure modules (AEMs), which are cages used to house rodents in spaceflight. Ground control AEMs are engineered to match the spaceflight environment. There are limited studies examining the biological response invariably due to the configuration of AEM and vivarium housing. To investigate the innate global transcriptomic patterns of rodents housed in spaceflight-matched AEM compared to standard vivarium cages we utilized publicly available data from the NASA GeneLab repository. Using a systems biology approach, we observed that AEM housing was associated with significant transcriptomic differences, including reduced metabolism, altered immune responses, and activation of possible tumorigenic pathways. Although we did not perform any functional studies, our findings revealed a mild hypoxic phenotype in AEM, possibly due to atmospheric carbon dioxide that was increased to match conditions in spaceflight. Our investigation illustrates the process of generating new hypotheses and informing future experimental research by repurposing multiple space-flown datasets.
Project description:The MinION sequencer has made in situ sequencing feasible in remote locations. Following our initial demonstration of its high performance off planet with Earth-prepared samples, we developed and tested an end-to-end, sample-to-sequencer process that could be conducted entirely aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Initial experiments demonstrated the process with a microbial mock community standard. The DNA was successfully amplified, primers were degraded, and libraries prepared and sequenced. The median percent identities for both datasets were 84%, as assessed from alignment of the mock community. The ability to correctly identify the organisms in the mock community standard was comparable for the sequencing data obtained in flight and on the ground. To validate the process on microbes collected from and cultured aboard the ISS, bacterial cells were selected from a NASA Environmental Health Systems Surface Sample Kit contact slide. The locations of bacterial colonies chosen for identification were labeled, and a small number of cells were directly added as input into the sequencing workflow. Prepared DNA was sequenced, and the data were downlinked to Earth. Return of the contact slide to the ground allowed for standard laboratory processing for bacterial identification. The identifications obtained aboard the ISS, Staphylococcus hominis and Staphylococcus capitis, matched those determined on the ground down to the species level. This marks the first ever identification of microbes entirely off Earth, and this validated process could be used for in-flight microbial identification, diagnosis of infectious disease in a crewmember, and as a research platform for investigators around the world.
Project description:The hindlimb unloading (HU) model has been used extensively to simulate the cephalad fluid shift and musculoskeletal disuse observed in spaceflight with its application expanding to study immune, cardiovascular and central nervous system responses, among others. Most HU studies are performed with singly housed animals, although social isolation also can substantially impact behavior and physiology, and therefore may confound HU experimental results. Other HU variants that allow for paired housing have been developed although no systematic assessment has been made to understand the effects of social isolation on HU outcomes. Hence, we aimed to determine the contribution of social isolation to tissue responses to HU. To accomplish this, we developed a refinement to the traditional NASA Ames single housing HU system to accommodate social housing in pairs, retaining desirable features of the original design. We conducted a 30-day HU experiment with adult, female mice that were either singly or socially housed. HU animals in both single and social housing displayed expected musculoskeletal deficits versus housing matched, normally loaded (NL) controls. However, select immune and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis responses were differentially impacted by the HU social environment relative to matched NL controls. HU led to a reduction in % CD4+ T cells in singly housed, but not in socially housed mice. Unexpectedly, HU increased adrenal gland mass in socially housed but not singly housed mice, while social isolation increased adrenal gland mass in NL controls. HU also led to elevated plasma corticosterone levels at day 30 in both singly and socially housed mice. Thus, musculoskeletal responses to simulated weightlessness are similar regardless of social environment with a few differences in adrenal and immune responses. Our findings show that combined stressors can mask, not only exacerbate, select responses to HU. These findings further expand the utility of the HU model for studying possible combined effects of spaceflight stressors.
Project description:Growing stem cells on Earth is very challenging and limited to a few population doublings. The standard two-dimensional (2D) culture environment is an unnatural condition for cell growth. Therefore, culturing stem cells aboard the International Space Station (ISS) under a microgravity environment may provide a more natural three-dimensional environment for stem cell expansion and organ development. In this study, human-derived mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) grown in space were evaluated to determine their potential use for future clinical applications on Earth and during long-term spaceflight. MSCs were flown in Plate Habitats for transportation to the ISS. The MSCs were imaged every 24-48?h and harvested at 7 and 14 days. Conditioned media samples were frozen at -80?°C and cells were either cryopreserved in 5% dimethyl sulfoxide, RNAprotect, or paraformaldehyde. After return to Earth, MSCs were characterized to establish their identity and cell cycle status. In addition, cell proliferation, differentiation, cytokines, and growth factors' secretion were assessed. To evaluate the risk of malignant transformation, the space-grown MSCs were subjected to chromosomal, DNA damage, and tumorigenicity assays. We found that microgravity had significant impact on the MSC capacity to secrete cytokines and growth factors. They appeared to be more potent in terms of immunosuppressive capacity compared to their identical ground control. Chromosomal, DNA damage, and tumorigenicity assays showed no evidence of malignant transformation. Therefore, it is feasible and potentially safe to grow MSCs aboard the ISS for potential future clinical applications.