Embryonic developmental studies under microgravity conditions in space are very limited. To study the effects of short-term altered gravity on embryonic development processes, we exposed mouse embryonic stem cells (mESCs) to phases of hypergravity and microgravity and studied the differentiation potential of the cells using wide-genome microarray analysis. During the 64th European Space Agency's parabolic flight campaign, mESCs were exposed to 31 parabolas. Each parabola comprised phases lasting 22 s of hypergravity, microgravity, and a repeat of hypergravity. On different parabolas, RNA was isolated for microarray analysis. After exposure to 31 parabolas, mESCs (P31 mESCs) were further differentiated under normal gravity (1 g) conditions for 12 days, producing P31 12-day embryoid bodies (EBs). After analysis of the microarrays, the differentially expressed genes were analyzed using different bioinformatic tools to identify developmental and nondevelopmental biological processes affected by conditions on the parabolic flight experiment. Our results demonstrated that several genes belonging to GOs associated with cell cycle and proliferation were downregulated in undifferentiated mESCs exposed to gravity changes. However, several genes belonging to developmental processes, such as vasculature development, kidney development, skin development, and to the TGF-β signaling pathway, were upregulated. Interestingly, similar enriched and suppressed GOs were obtained in P31 12-day EBs compared with ground control 12-day EBs. Our results show that undifferentiated mESCs exposed to alternate hypergravity and microgravity phases expressed several genes associated with developmental/differentiation and cell cycle processes, suggesting a transition from the undifferentiated pluripotent to a more differentiated stage of mESCs.
Keywords: differentiation; embryonic stem cells; hypergravity; microgravity; parabolic flight; transcriptomics.