Humans and experimental animals subjected to microgravity, such as experienced during space flight, exhibit alterations in erythropoiesis, including changes in red blood cell morphology, survival and a reduction in red blood cell mass. Some of these alterations have been attributed to a disruption of normal in vivo erythropoietin physiology. However, human bone marrow cells grown on orbit showed a profound reduction in the number of erythroid cells, suggesting a cellular component. We now report the results of a study carried out on orbit on the International Space Station (ISS UF-1) in which an erythroid cell line was induced to differentiate. Rauscher murine erythroleukemia cells, a continuous cell line that can undergo erythropoietin (Epo)- or chemical-induced differentiation similar to normal erythropoiesis, were cultured for 6 days either in microgravity on board the ISS or on earth and then for 3 days in the absence or presence of 50 U Epo/ml or 0.7% dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). The cells were fixed, stored on orbit and returned to earth for study. Compared to ground-based controls, cells cultured in microgravity exhibited a greater degree of differentiation (hemoglobinization) (p<0.01). However, TER-119 antigen, a specific marker of the late stages of murine erythroid differentiation, was not detected on the surface of cells grown in microgravity. A significantly higher percentage (p<0.05) of cell clusters formed on orbit, whereas actin content appeared reduced. Furthermore, there was a more profound loss of actin stress fibers in microgravity following Epo or DMSO treatment. These results demonstrate abnormal erythropoiesis in vitro in microgravity and are consistent with the hypothesis that erythropoiesis is affected by gravitational forces at the cellular level.(Supported by NASA Grants NAG9-1368 and NAG2-1592 to AJS)

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