Physiological responses to gravity in an insect

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jan 28;117(4):2180-2186. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1915424117. Epub 2020 Jan 13.


Gravity is one of the most ubiquitous environmental effects on living systems: Cellular and organismal responses to gravity are of central importance to understanding the physiological function of organisms, especially eukaryotes. Gravity has been demonstrated to have strong effects on the closed cardiovascular systems of terrestrial vertebrates, with rapidly responding neural reflexes ensuring proper blood flow despite changes in posture. Invertebrates possess open circulatory systems, which could provide fewer mechanisms to restrict gravity effects on blood flow, suggesting that these species also experience effects of gravity on blood pressure and distribution. However, whether gravity affects the open circulatory systems of invertebrates is unknown, partly due to technical measurement issues associated with small body size. Here we used X-ray imaging, radio-tracing of hemolymph, and micropressure measurements in the American grasshopper, Schistocerca americana, to assess responses to body orientation. Our results show that during changes in body orientation, gravity causes large changes in blood and air distribution, and that body position affects ventilation rate. Remarkably, we also found that insects show similar heart rate responses to body position as vertebrates, and contrasting with the classic understanding of open circulatory systems, have flexible valving systems between thorax and abdomen that can separate pressures. Gravitational effects on invertebrate cardiovascular and respiratory systems are likely to be widely distributed among invertebrates and to have broad influence on morphological and physiological evolution.

Keywords: cardiovascular system; gravity; insect; invertebrate; respiratory system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Blood Pressure
  • Body Size
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Grasshoppers / growth & development
  • Grasshoppers / physiology*
  • Gravitation*
  • Respiratory Physiological Phenomena