Is Telomere Length a Biomarker of Adaptive Response in Space? Curious Findings from NASA and Residents of High Background Radiation Areas

J Biomed Phys Eng. 2019 Jun 1;9(3):381-388. doi: 10.31661/jbpe.v9i3Jun.1151. eCollection 2019 Jun.


Telomere length and stability is a biomarker of aging, stress, and cancer. Shortening of telomeres and high level of DNA damages are known to be associated with aging. Telomere shortening normally occurs during cell division in most cells and when telomeres reach a critically short length, DNA damage signaling and cellular senescence can be triggered. The induction of an adaptive response by space radiation was first documented in 2003. Telomere length alterations are among the most fascinating observations in astronauts and residents of high background radiation areas. While study of the chronic exposure to high levels of background ionizing radiation in Kerala, India failed to show a significant influence on telomere length, limited data about the NASA astronaut Scott Kelly show that exposure to space radiation can induce telomeres to regain length. Interestingly, his telomeres shortened again only a couple of days after returning to Earth. The difference between these situations may be due to the differences in radiation dose, dose-rate, and/or type of radiation. Moreover, Scott Kelly's spacewalks (EVA) could have significantly increased his cumulative radiation dose. It is worth noting that the spacewalks not only confer a higher dose activity but are also characterized by a different radiation spectrum than inside the space craft since the primary particles would not interact with the vehicle shell to generate secondary radiation. Generally, these differences can possibly indicate the necessity of a minimum dose/dose-rate for induction of adaptive response (the so called Window effect).

Keywords: Adaptive Response; Astronauts; Background Radiatio; Natural Radiation; Telomere Length.