It is currently unknown whether immune system alterations persist during long-duration spaceflight. In this study various adaptive immune parameters were assessed in astronauts at three intervals during 6-month spaceflight on board the International Space Station (ISS).
To assess phenotypic and functional immune system alterations in astronauts participating in 6-month orbital spaceflight.
Blood was collected before, during, and after flight from 23 astronauts participating in 6-month ISS expeditions. In-flight samples were returned to Earth within 48 h of collection for immediate analysis. Assays included peripheral leukocyte distribution, T-cell function, virus-specific immunity, and mitogen-stimulated cytokine production profiles.
Redistribution of leukocyte subsets occurred during flight, including an elevated white blood cell (WBC) count and alterations in CD8+ T-cell maturation. A reduction in general T-cell function (both CD4+ and CD8+) persisted for the duration of the 6-month spaceflights, with differential responses between mitogens suggesting an activation threshold shift. The percentage of CD4+ T cells capable of producing IL-2 was depressed after landing. Significant reductions in mitogen-stimulated production of IFNγ, IL-10, IL-5, TNFα, and IL-6 persisted during spaceflight. Following lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation, production of IL-10 was reduced, whereas IL-8 production was increased during flight.
The data indicated that immune alterations persist during long-duration spaceflight. This phenomenon, in the absence of appropriate countermeasures, has the potential to increase specific clinical risks for crewmembers during exploration-class deep space missions.