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Spaced Out

The Scientist digs into the gene expression changes found in cardiomyocyte heart cells derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells that took a whirl on the International Space Station.

Investigators from Stanford University and elsewhere used RNA sequencing to explore the gene expression consequences of microgravity on the stem cell-derived heart cells, identifying more than 2,600 genes with distinct expression in the cells sent to space, post-flight cells, and samples that stayed on the ground. The team shared its findings online yesterday in Stem Cell Reports, flagging mitochondrial genes that appeared most apt to show altered gene expression.

The enhanced expression of mitochondrial metabolism-related genes in these cells "could be associated with an attempt by the cells to mitigate mitochondrial dysfunction associated with cardiovascular disease, which astronauts are at increased risk for, but further research will be necessary to understand the observation," The Scientist's Emily Makowski writes, citing comments by the study's senior author Joseph Wu.

In, Samantha Mathewson notes that such findings may inform future space flights, including proposed trips to Mars. "Spaceflight is known to affect the human body in a variety of ways," she explains. "This includes physiological changes in cardiac function, such as reduced heart rate, lowered arterial pressure, and increased cardiac output."

Together with the space-associated gene expression differences previously described in twin astronauts, the study "raises the possibility that spaceflight has similar effects on multiple cell types, including heart and blood cells," Ruby Prosser Scully writes in New Scientist, noting that the investigators expect to send three-dimensional tissue structures into space in the future.