Function of the Cytoskeleton in Gravisensing During Spaceflight

Adv Space Res. 2003;32(8):1585-93. doi: 10.1016/S0273-1177(03)90399-1.


Since astronauts and cosmonauts have significant bone loss in microgravity we hypothesized that there would be physiological changes in cellular bone growth and cytoskeleton in the absence of gravity. Investigators from around the world have studied a multitude of bone cells in microgravity including Ros 17/2.8, Mc3T3-E1, MG-63, hFOB and primary chicken calvaria. Changes in cytoskeleton and extracellular matrix (ECM) have been noted in many of these studies. Investigators have noted changes in shape of cells exposed to as little as 20 seconds of microgravity in parabolic flight. Our laboratory reported that quiescent osteoblasts activated by sera under microgravity conditions had a significant 60% reduction in growth (p<0.001) but a paradoxical 2-fold increase in release of the osteoblast autocrine factor PGE2 when compared to ground controls. In addition, a collapse of the osteoblast actin cytoskeleton and loss of focal adhesions has been noted after 4 days in microgravity. Later studies in Biorack on STS-76, 81 and 84 confirmed the increased release of PGE2 and collapse of the actin cytoskeleton in cells grown in microgravity conditions, however flown cells under 1 g conditions maintained normal actin cytoskeleton and fibronectin matrix. The changes seen in the cytoskeleton are probably not due to alterations in fibronectin message or protein synthesis since no differences have been noted in microgravity. Multiple investigators have observed actin and microtubule cytoskeletal modifications in microgravity, suggesting a common root cause for the change in cell architecture. The inability of the 0 g grown osteoblast to respond to sera activation suggests that there is a major alteration in anabolic signal transduction under microgravity conditions, most probably through the growth factor receptors and/or the associated kinase pathways that are connected to the cytoskeleton. Cell cycle is dependent on the cytoskeleton. Alterations in cytoskeletal structure can block cell growth either in G1 (F-actin microfilament collapse), or in G2/M (inhibition of microtubule polymerization during G2/M-phase). We therefore hypothesize that microgravity would inhibit growth in either G1, or G2/M.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Actins / metabolism*
  • Cell Cycle / physiology
  • Cell Physiological Phenomena*
  • Cell Shape
  • Cytoskeleton / physiology*
  • Gravity Sensing / physiology*
  • Microtubules / physiology
  • Mitosis
  • Space Flight*
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Weightlessness*


  • Actins