Neural Cells Studied After Space Gravity Exposure

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LOS ANGELES, July 6, 2020 — A researcher from UCLA recently sent human brain cells into space, with the goal of understanding how they react to and develop in an environment of microgravity (weightlessness). Astronauts have reported intracranial hypertension upon returning to Earth following space missions.
Neural cells: Human neural stem cells. Courtesy of ZEISS.
Human neural stem cells. Courtesy of ZEISS.

To effectively study effects of space on brain cells, Dr. Araceli Espinosa-Jeffrey, a research neurobiologist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, needed microscopy equipment to conduct time-sensitive 72-hour time lapse to capture images of changes in neural stem cells when gravity changes. ZEISS Research Microscopy Solutions provided a one-month loan of equipment, which processed samples flown on the International Space Station during the SpaceX CRS-16 mission.

Espinosa-Jeffrey had previously experimented in simulated microgravity and observed more rapid cell growth than under terrestrial conditions. The experiment in space to test whether cell proliferation was increased in actual microgravity was managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center Space Biosciences Division. The goal was to confirm earlier research and learn about space effects on a variety of cell types.

Two types of cells were studied: neural stem cells, which produce cells for the nervous system, and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells, which, when mature, form insulating membranes called myelin sheaths and allow signals to move along nerves at normal speeds.

To accomplish this research, Espinosa-Jeffrey was loaned a complete Cell Observer system from ZEISS, with whom she had already worked during experiments in Mexico City, France, and the U.S.

More research will likely provide answers as to the relationship between the impacts on neural cells of microgravity and visual impairment and intracranial pressure that astronauts have experienced following their missions into space. The next phase of the work will be performed on SpaceX CRS-21, a commercial resupply service mission to the International Space Station due to launch Oct. 30.

Published: July 2020
Research & Technologybrainbrain cellsneural activityneuralspaceUCLAneuronsZeissInternational Space StationISSSemel Institute for Neuroscience and Human BehavioraerospaceBiophotonics

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