November 30, 2019
1 min read

On your way back from space? Watch out for leaky gut

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Experiencing the weightlessness of space could compromise the ability of the gut epithelial barrier to keep foreign cells out of the body, according to study results published in Scientific Reports.

“Our findings have implications for our understanding of the effects of space travel on intestinal function of astronauts in space, as well as their capacity to withstand the effects of agents that compromise intestinal epithelial barrier function following their return to Earth,” Declan F. McCole, PhD, of the division of biomedical sciences at the University of California, Riverside, said in a press release.

In their study, McCole and colleagues cultured intestinal epithelial cells on microcarrier beads in simulated microgravity using a rotating wall vessel. The vessel maintains the cells in controlled rotation to recreate near weightlessness.

After the cells spent 18 days in the vessel, investigators found that they had trouble forming the tight junctions needed to maintain impermeability. This reaction lasted up to 14 days after the cells were removed from the vessel.

McCole and colleagues also tested the cell with a permeability-inducing agent — acetaldehyde, an alcoholic metabolite — to simulate how the epithelial barrier might fair against external agents once people return from space. They found that it significantly decreased transepithelial electrical resistance and FTIC-dextran permeability.

McCole said that microgravity makes it harder for epithelial cells to withstand the effects of permeation agent.

“Our study is the first to investigate if functional changes to epithelial cell barrier properties are sustained over time following removal from a simulated microgravity environment,” McCole said in the release. “Our work can inform long-term space travel and colonization where exposure to a food-borne pathogen may result in a more severe pathology than on Earth.” – by Alex Young

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.