New research findings show that immune system development is affected by gravity changes when astronauts are exposed to stresses during launch and landing which disrupts their body’s natural defenses against infection. Changes to the immune system need to be investigated before astronauts undergo longer space missions. 

Researchers looked at how antibody production is affected when animal development occurs on board a space station and which part of space travel has the greatest impact on antibodies, which are the proteins that the immune system uses to protect us from diseases.

To do this, they sent Pleurodeles waltl (Iberian ribbed newt) embryos to the International Space Station before the newt embryos started to develop the IgM antibody, which is also found in humans and is the largest antibody that circulates in blood.

Upon landing, they were compared with embryos grown on Earth. Antibody mRNAs in space and earth newts were different. The IgM antibody was doubled at landing. Findings show that gravity changes during development affect antibodies and the regeneration of white blood cells, which are important in defending the body against infectious diseases. Spaceflight did not affect newt development nor did it cause inflammation.

The scientists speculate that these changes could also occur in humans but would need further experimentation to find if gravity can influence the immune system and white blood cell function, which play a role in many human diseases including cancer and diabetes.

Citation: Cécile Huin-Schohn, Nathan Guéguinou, Véronique Schenten, Matthieu Bascove, Guillemette Gauquelin Koch, Sarah Baatout, Eric Tschirhart and Jean-Pol Frippiat, 'Gravity changes during animal development affect IgM heavy-chain transcription and probably lymphopoiesis.,The FASEB Journal doi: 10.1096/fj.12-217547