Geneticists have discovered why astronauts in weightlessness are more likely to get sick

Scientists have found out why astronauts in orbit have a sharp decrease in immunity and health problems begin. The reason for everything is the work of leukocyte genes, which significantly alter their expression in weightlessness, according to the study. published in Frontiers in Immunology.

Specialists providing medical support to cosmonauts and astronauts have long noticed that people who stay in orbit for a long time become more susceptible to all kinds of infections. Thus, ISS astronauts often have skin rashes, respiratory diseases, and there are more virus particles in their exhaled air, such as Epstein-Barr virus, chicken pox virus and others. These observations suggest that human immunity wanes in orbit.

To understand the reason for this phenomenon, scientists from the University of Ottawa examined the blood of 14 astronauts (3 women and 11 men) who flew to the ISS in the 2015-19 period and lived on the station. from 4.5 to 6.5 months. Leukocytes (white blood cells) were isolated from the astronauts’ blood 10 times – once before the flight, four times during and five times after landing.

In the composition of leukocytes, we managed to identify two groups of genes (247 and 29) whose expression changed during the entire observation period. The expression of the first group genes decreased upon entry into orbit and returned to normal levels after returning to Earth, with the second group genes manifesting in the opposite manner. “We have shown that the expression of many genes related to immune functions is significantly reduced when they enter space, and the reverse occurs when they return to Earth after six months on the ISS,” explained Odette Laneville, author of the study.

Analysis showed that most genes in both groups returned to their previous level of expression within a year of landing, but usually much sooner, within weeks. This means that reduced immunity poses a threat to astronauts for at least a month after they return to Earth. Scientists believe that the change in gene expression occurs due to the redistribution of blood plasma from lower to upper parts of the body under weightless conditions – a process that also affects the lymphatic system.

“The next challenge is how to apply our findings to take action to prevent immune suppression in space, especially during long flights,” the author explained.

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