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Keywords:

  • osteoblast;
  • spaceflight;
  • microgravity;
  • bone adaptation;
  • collagen

Abstract

A model calcifying system of primary osteoblast cell cultures derived from normal embryonic chicken calvaria has been flown aboard the shuttle, Endeavour, during the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mission STS-59 (April 9–20, 1994) to characterize unloading and other spaceflight effects on the bone cells. Aliquots of cells (∼7 × 106) grown in Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium (DMEM) + 10% fetal bovine serum (FBS) were mixed with microcarrier beads, inoculated into cartridge culture units of artificial hollow fiber capillaries, and carried on the shuttle. To promote cell differentiation, cartridge media were supplemented with 12.5 μg/ml ascorbate and 10 mM β-glycerophosphate for varying time periods before and during flight. Four cartridges contained cells from 17-day-old embryos grown for 5 days in the presence of ascorbate prior to launch (defined as flight cells committed to the osteoblastic lineage) and four cartridges supported cells from 14-day-old embryos grown for 10 days with ascorbate before launch (uncommitted flight cells). Eight cartridges prepared in the same manner were maintained under normal gravity throughout the flight (control cells) and four additional identical cartridges under normal gravity were terminated on the day of launch (basal cells). From shuttle launch to landing, all cartridges were contained in closed hardware units maintaining 5% CO2, 37°C, and media delivery at a rate of ∼1.5 ml/6 h. During day 3 and day 5 of flight, duplicate aliquots of conditioned media and accumulated cell products were collected in both the flight and the control hardware units. At the mission end, comparisons among flight, basal, and control samples were made in cell metabolism, gene expression for type I collagen and osteocalcin, and ultrastructure. Both committed and uncommitted flight cells were metabolically active, as measured by glucose uptake and lactate production, at approximately the same statistical levels as control counterparts. Flight cells elaborated a less extensive extracellular matrix, evidenced by a reduced collagen gene expression and collagen protein appearance compared with controls. Osteocalcin was expressed by all cells, a result indicating progressive differentiation of both flight and control osteoblasts, but its message levels also were reduced in flight cells compared with ground samples. This finding suggested that osteoblasts subjected to flight followed a slower progression toward a differentiated function. The summary of data indicates that spaceflight, including microgravity exposure, demonstrably affects bone cells by down-regulating type I collagen and osteocalcin gene expression and thereby inhibiting expression of the osteogenic phenotype notably by committed osteoblasts. The information is important for insight into the response of bone cells to changes of gravity and of force in general.