Researchers found that microgravity environments may interfere with the epithelial barrier of the intestine for astronauts.
The intestine is an important part of the digestive system, inhabited by a tremendous number of microorganisms. Intestinal epithelial cells greatly contribute to the maintenance of the symbiotic relationship between gut microbiota and the host by absorbing nutrients into the body while restricting the entry of harmful substances.
Maintaining the intestinal barrier function is very important for our health, and any dysfunction is a risk factor for many diseases and conditions such as gastrointestinal infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, obesity, celiac diseases, and food allergies.
In a new paper published in Scientific Reports by Nature, a group of researchers led by the University of California investigated the effect of microgravity during spaceflight on epithelial barrier function. The biomedical scientists used a rotating wall vessel to examine the impact of near weightlessness environment on cultured intestinal epithelial cells.
Following culture for about two weeks in the vessel, the research team discovered that intestinal epithelial cells showed a significant delay in forming cell-to-cell junctions that connect individual epithelial cells and are necessary for blocking living organisms or biological molecules to cross. Surprisingly, the effect lasted another two weeks after the intestinal epithelial cells were removed from the vessel.
This study clearly showed that the spaceflight environment can induce an underlying and sustained susceptibility to epithelial barrier disruption even after removal from the microgravity condition. More works are needed to confirm the severity caused to astronauts during space missions.
Written by Man-tik Choy, Ph.D
Reference: Alvarez, R., Stork, C.A., Sayoc-Becerra, A. et al. A Simulated Microgravity Environment Causes a Sustained Defect in Epithelial Barrier Function. Sci Rep 9, 17531 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41598-019-53862-3.
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