Temporal Telomere and DNA Damage Responses in the Space Radiation Environment

Cell Rep. 2020 Dec 8;33(10):108435. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2020.108435. Epub 2020 Nov 25.


Telomeres, repetitive terminal features of chromosomes essential for maintaining genome integrity, shorten with cell division, lifestyle factors and stresses, and environmental exposures, and so they provide a robust biomarker of health, aging, and age-related diseases. We assessed telomere length dynamics (changes over time) in three unrelated astronauts before, during, and after 1-year or 6-month missions aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Similar to our results for National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA's) One-Year Mission twin astronaut (Garrett-Bakelman et al., 2019), significantly longer telomeres were observed during spaceflight for two 6-month mission astronauts. Furthermore, telomere length shortened rapidly after return to Earth for all three crewmembers and, overall, telomere length tended to be shorter after spaceflight than before spaceflight. Consistent with chronic exposure to the space radiation environment, signatures of persistent DNA damage responses were also detected, including mitochondrial and oxidative stress, inflammation, and telomeric and chromosomal aberrations, which together provide potential mechanistic insight into spaceflight-specific telomere elongation.

Keywords: DNA damage responses; ISS; International Space Station; NASA One-Year Mission; NASA Twins Study; space radiation environment; telomeres.

Publication types

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