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Rat gestation during space flight: Outcomes for dams and their offspring born after return to earth

Abstract

Sprague-Dawley rats were studied to learn whether gestation in the near-zero gravity, high radiation environment of space impacts selected mammalian postnatal events. Ten rats spent days nine to twenty of pregnancy aboard the space shuttle orbiterAtlantis (STS-66). Their movement, was studied shortly after return to Earth; subsequently, several of their offspring were cross-fostered and examined through postnatal day 81 (P81) for whole body growth and somatic motor development. Values for the flight animals were compared to ground-based control groups. Relative to controls, the pregnant flight rats showed a marked paucity of locomotion during the first few hours after returning to Earth. There was greater likelihood of perinatal morbidity for the offspring of flight dams when compared to the control groups. Whole body weight of surviving offspring, averaged for each group separately, showed typical sigmoidal growth curves when plotted against postnatal age. The flight group for our study had a larger ratio of female to male pups, and that was sufficient to account for the lower average daily weight gained by the flight animals when compared to the control groups. Walking was universally achieved by P13 and preceded eye opening which was complete in all pups by P17. Thus, both of these developmental horizons were attained on schedule in the flight as well as the control rats. Characteristic changes were observed in hind limb step length and gait width as the pups grew. These patterns occurred at the same time in each group of rats. Therefore, prenatal space flight from days nine to twenty of gestation did not interfere with the establishment of normal patterns for hind paw placement during walking.

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Correspondence to Mark De Santis Ph.D..

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Wong, A.M., De Santis, M. Rat gestation during space flight: Outcomes for dams and their offspring born after return to earth. Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science 32, 322–342 (1997). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02688630

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02688630

Key words

  • space shuttle
  • mammalian development
  • microgravity
  • weight gain
  • eyelid disjunction
  • locomotion