As space flight becomes more accessible in the future, humans will be exposed to gravity conditions other than our 1G environment on Earth. Our bodies and physiology, however, are adapted for life at 1G gravity. Altering gravity can have profound effects on the body, particularly the development of muscles, but the reasons and biology behind gravity's effect are not fully known. We asked whether increasing gravity had effects on the development of motor neurons that innervate and control muscle, a relatively unexplored area of gravity biology. Using the nematode model organism Caenorhabditis elegans, we examined changes in response to hypergravity in the development of the 19 GABAergic DD/VD motor neurons that innervate body muscle. We found that a high gravity force above 10G significantly increases the number of animals with defects in the development of axonal projections from the DD/VD neurons. We showed that a critical period of hypergravity exposure during the embryonic/early larval stage was sufficient to induce defects. While characterizing the nature of the axonal defects, we found that in normal 1G gravity conditions, DD/VD axonal defects occasionally occurred, with the majority of defects occurring on the dorsal side of the animal and in the mid-body region, and a significantly higher rate of error in the 13 VD axons than the 6 DD axons. Hypergravity exposure increased the rate of DD/VD axonal defects, but did not change the distribution or the characteristics of the defects. Our study demonstrates that altering gravity can impact motor neuron development.
Keywords: Axon; C. elegans; Gravity; Motor neurons; Space flight.