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Immune System Dysregulation Occurs During Short Duration Spaceflight On Board the Space Shuttle

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Post-flight data suggests immunity is dysregulated immediately following spaceflight, however this data may be influenced by the stress effects of high-G entry and readaptation to terrestrial gravity. It is unknown if immunity is altered during spaceflight.


Blood samples were collected from 19 US Astronauts onboard the Space Shuttle ~24 h prior to landing and returned for terrestrial analysis. Assays consisted of leukocyte distribution, T cell blastogenesis and cytokine production profiles.


Most bulk leukocyte subsets (WBC, differential, lymphocyte subsets) were unaltered during spaceflight, but were altered following landing. CD8+ T cell subsets, including cytotoxic, central memory and senescent were altered during spaceflight. T cell early blastogenesis varied by culture mitogen. Functional responses to staphylococcal enterotoxin were reduced during and following spaceflight, whereas response to anti-CD3/28 antibodies was elevated post-flight. The level of virus specific T cells were generally unaltered, however virus specific T cell function was depressed both during and following flight. Plasma levels of IFNα, IFNγ, IL-1β, IL-4, IL-10, IL-12, and TNFα were significantly elevated in-flight, while IL-6 was significantly elevated at R + 0. Cytokine production profiles following mitogenic stimulation were significantly altered both during, and following spaceflight. Specifically, production of IFNγ, IL-17 and IL-10 were reduced, but production of TNFα and IL-8 were elevated during spaceflight.


This study indicates that specific parameters among leukocyte distribution, T cell function and cytokine production profiles are altered during flight. These findings distinguish in-flight dysregulation from stress-related alterations observed immediately following landing.

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The authors wish to thank the Space Shuttle crewmembers for participating in this study. The authors also wish to acknowledge the support provided by the JSC Clinical Laboratory, JSC Mission Integration Team, and KSC Baseline Data Collection Facility during this study. The authors are particularly grateful for operational support provided by Mimi Shao at the Kennedy Space Center and Matt Roper at the Johnson Space Center.

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Correspondence to Brian Crucian.

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Crucian, B., Stowe, R., Mehta, S. et al. Immune System Dysregulation Occurs During Short Duration Spaceflight On Board the Space Shuttle. J Clin Immunol 33, 456–465 (2013).

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