Microgravity and space radiation inhibit autophagy in human capillary endothelial cells, through either opposite or synergistic effects on specific molecular pathways

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2021 Dec 22;79(1):28. doi: 10.1007/s00018-021-04025-z.


Microgravity and space radiation (SR) are two highly influential factors affecting humans in space flight (SF). Many health problems reported by astronauts derive from endothelial dysfunction and impaired homeostasis. Here, we describe the adaptive response of human, capillary endothelial cells to SF. Reference samples on the ground and at 1g onboard permitted discrimination between the contribution of microgravity and SR within the combined responses to SF. Cell softening and reduced motility occurred in SF cells, with a loss of actin stress fibers and a broader distribution of microtubules and intermediate filaments within the cytoplasm than in control cells. Furthermore, in space the number of primary cilia per cell increased and DNA repair mechanisms were found to be activated. Transcriptomics revealed the opposing effects of microgravity from SR for specific molecular pathways: SR, unlike microgravity, stimulated pathways for endothelial activation, such as hypoxia and inflammation, DNA repair and apoptosis, inhibiting autophagic flux and promoting an aged-like phenotype. Conversely, microgravity, unlike SR, activated pathways for metabolism and a pro-proliferative phenotype. Therefore, we suggest microgravity and SR should be considered separately to tailor effective countermeasures to protect astronauts' health.

Keywords: Cytoskeleton; HMEC-1; Immunofluorescence staining; International Space Station; RNA sequencing; Telomeres.

MeSH terms

  • Apoptosis
  • Autophagy*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Capillaries / cytology*
  • Cell Line
  • Cell Survival
  • Chromosomes, Human / metabolism
  • Cosmic Radiation*
  • Cytoskeleton / metabolism
  • DNA Damage
  • Endothelial Cells / radiation effects*
  • Fluorescence
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genome, Human
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mechanotransduction, Cellular
  • Models, Biological
  • Signal Transduction* / radiation effects
  • Space Flight
  • Stress, Physiological
  • Telomere Homeostasis
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Weightlessness*


  • Biomarkers