Gravitational Force: Triggered Stress in Cells of the Immune System

  • Oliver Ullrich
  • Cora S. Thiel


Sensitivity of the human immune system to microgravity has been supposed since the first Apollo missions and was demonstrated during several space missions in the past. In vitro experiments demonstrated that cells of the immune system are exceptionally sensitive to microgravity. Therefore, serious concerns arose whether spaceflight-associated immune system weakening ultimately precludes the expansion of human presence beyond Earth’s orbit. In human cells, gravitational forces may be sensed by an individual cell in the context of altered extracellular matrix mechanics, cell shape, cytoskeletal organization, or internal prestress in the cell–tissue matrix. The development of cellular mechanosensitivity and signal transduction was probably an evolutionary requirement to enable our cells to sense their individual microenvironment. Therefore it is possible that the same mechanisms, which enable human cells to sense and to cope with mechanical stress, are potentially dangerous in microgravity.


International Space Station Simulated Microgravity Parabolic Flight Actin Network Simulated Weightlessness 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We gratefully acknowledge the support by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Space Agency (grant no. 50WB0613 and no. 50WB0912) and ESA (ESTEC Contract nr 20562/07/NL/VJ ESA-CORA-GBF-2005-005). We also gratefully thank our collaboration ­partners DLR, ESA, EADS Astrium Space Transportation, NOVESPACE, the Swiss Air Force and the Deutsche Lufthansa.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Anatomy, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Department of Machine Design, Engineering Design and Product Development, Institute of Mechanical EngineeringOtto-von-Guericke-University MagdeburgMagdeburgGermany
  3. 3.Institute of Medical Physics and BiophysicsUniversity of MuensterMuensterGermany

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