Neuroendocrine and immune system responses with spaceflights


Section Editor(s): Tipton, Charles M.

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise:
Basic Sciences: Symposium: Physiological Adaptations and Countermeasures Associated with Long-Duration Spaceflights Restricted Physical Activity: an Update

Despite the fact that the first human was in space during 1961 and individuals have existed in a microgravity environment for more than a year, there are limited spaceflight data available on the responses of the neuroendocrine and immune systems. Because of mutual interactions between these respective integrative systems, it is inappropriate to assume that the responses of one have no impact on functions of the other. Blood and plasma volume consistently decrease with spaceflight; hence, blood endocrine and immune constituents will be modified by both gravitational and measurement influences. The majority of the in-flight data relates to endocrine responses that influence fluids and electrolytes during the first month in space. Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), aldosterone, and anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) appear to be elevated with little change in the atrial natriuretic peptides(ANP). Flight results longer than 60 d show increased ADH variability with elevations in angiotensin and cortisol. Although post-flight results are influenced by reentry and recovery events, ACTH and ADH appear to be consistently elevated with variable results being reported for the other hormones. Limited in-flight data on insulin and growth hormone levels suggest they are not elevated to counteract the loss in muscle mass. Post-flight results from short- and long-term flights indicate that thyroxine and insulin are increased while growth hormone exhibits minimal change. In-flight parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels are variable for several weeks after which they remain elevated. Post-flight PTH was increased on missions that lasted either 7 or 237 d, whereas calcitonin concentrations were increased after 1 wk but decreased after longer flights. Leukocytes are elevated in flights of various durations because of an increase in neutrophils. The majority of post-flight data indicates immunoglobulin concentrations are not significantly changed from pre-flight measurements. However, the numbers of T-lymphocytes and natural killer cells are decreased with post-flight conditions. Of the lymphokines, interleukin-2 production, lymphocyte responsiveness, and the activity of natural killer cells are consistently reduced post-flight. Limited head-down tilt (HDT) data suggest it is an effective simulation model for microgravity investigations. Neuroendocrine and pharmacological countermeasures are virtually nonexistent and should become high priority items for future research. Although exercise has the potential to be an effective countermeasure for various neuroendocrine-immune responses in microgravity, this concept must be tested before flights to Mars are scheduled.

Author Information

Department of Physiology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0093; Life Sciences Division, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035-1000; and School of Kinesiology and Physical Education, University of Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO 80631-0001

Submitted for publication February 1995.

Accepted for publication December 1995.

Address for correspondence: Charles M. Tipton, Ph.D., Department of Physiology, Gittings Building, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721-0093.

©1996The American College of Sports Medicine