Spaceflight effects on human vascular smooth muscle cell phenotype and function

NPJ Microgravity. 2024 Mar 28;10(1):41. doi: 10.1038/s41526-024-00380-w.


The cardiovascular system is strongly impacted by the hazards of spaceflight. Astronauts spending steadily increasing lengths of time in microgravity are subject to cardiovascular deconditioning resulting in loss of vascular tone, reduced total blood volume, and diminished cardiac output. Appreciating the mechanisms by which the cells of the vasculature are altered during spaceflight will be integral to understanding and combating these deleterious effects as the human presence in space advances. In this study, we performed RNA-Seq analysis coupled with review by QIAGEN Ingenuity Pathway Analysis software on human aortic smooth muscle cells (HASMCs) cultured for 3 days in microgravity and aboard the International Space Station to assess the transcriptomic changes that occur during spaceflight. The results of our RNA-Seq analysis show that SMCs undergo a wide range of transcriptional alteration while in space, significantly affecting 4422 genes. SMCs largely down-regulate markers of the contractile, synthetic, and osteogenic phenotypes including smooth muscle alpha actin (αSMA), matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), and bone morphogenic proteins (BMPs). Additionally, components of several cellular signaling pathways were strongly impacted including the STAT3, NFκB, PI3K/AKT, HIF1α, and Endothelin pathways. This study highlights the significant changes in transcriptional behavior SMCs exhibit during spaceflight and puts these changes in context to better understand vascular function in space.