Multidisciplinary Approach to the Analysis of the Functional Alterations Induced by Microgravity in Human Satellite Cells, and Study of Possible Countermeasures (MYOGRAVITY) - 07.26.17

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Science Objectives for Everyone
Prolonged exposure to microgravity reduces the number and size of fibers in skeletal muscles and understanding how this happens is vital to future long-term space exploration. Multidisciplinary Approach to Analysis of the Functional Alterations Induced by Microgravity in Human Satellite Cells and Study of Possible Countermeasures (MYOGRAVITY) looks at molecular, cellular and functional changes in satellite cells, which are adult stem cells involved in the growth, maintenance and repair of skeletal muscle tissue. It also investigates the possible role of a particular gene, IGF-1, in counteracting these microgravity-induced muscle changes.
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The following content was provided by Stefania Fulle, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Experiment Details

OpNom: Muscle Cells

Principal Investigator(s)
Stefania Fulle, Ph.D., University G. d'Annunzio, Chieti-Pescara, Chieti, Italy

Guglielmo Sorci, Ph.D., University of Perugia, Perugia, Italy

Kaiser Italia, Livorno, Italy

Sponsoring Space Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

Sponsoring Organization
Italian Space Agency (ASI)

Research Benefits
Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery

ISS Expedition Duration
April 2017 - September 2017; September 2017 - February 2018

Expeditions Assigned

Previous Missions
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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • The goal of the Multidisciplinary Approach to Analysis of the Functional Alterations Induced by Microgravity in Human Satellite Cells and Study of Possible Countermeasures (MYOGRAVITY) investigation is to study the modifications induced by the exposure to microgravity, both simulated on ground by the use of a Random Positioning Machine (RPM), and real-time on board the International Space Station (ISS), in human muscle Satellite Cells (SCs) and their progeny, the myoblasts.
  • Molecular alterations and functional deficits of human muscle SCs are identified, consequent to the exposure to microgravity, and potentially linked to microgravity-induced muscle atrophy. The comparison between data obtained with human SCs and reported data obtained in murine SCs, make it possible to establish if murine SCs/myoblasts might be consider an affordable model in the study of human-related microgravity effects on muscle tissue. The comparison between data obtained from SCs cultivated in simulated vs real microgravity conditions is important to validate RPM as an affordable tool to artificially reproduce microgravity on the ground.


Muscle growth, maintenance, and repair is largely dependent on satellite cells (SCs), the dormant adult stem cells of muscle tissue endowed with the ability to activate, proliferate, and build new myofibers, or repair the damaged ones. SC activity is under the control of intracellular and extracellular factors which act in a spatially and temporally orchestrated manner. Microgravity conditions are likely to induce muscle atrophy by affecting SC biology and functionality. Although data about the effects of microgravity on murine SCs have been reported, information about direct effects of microgravity on human SCs is lacking.
In the Multidisciplinary Approach to Analysis of the Functional Alterations Induced by Microgravity in Human Satellite Cells and Study of Possible Countermeasures (MYOGRAVITY) investigation, Human SCs are isolated from biopsies from the vastus lateralis (VL) muscle of young healthy human subjects, and the effects of microgravity evaluated on myoblasts by molecular, cellular, and gene expression analyses. Subject to obtaining the necessary permissions, SCs are isolated from VL muscle of astronauts, before and after spaceflight, and the derived myoblasts analyzed for their biology and gene expression profile in the dependence on microgravity. The effects of muscle-specific expression of IGF-1 in counteracting microgravity-induced muscle atrophy are evaluated. Additionally, the effects induced by the exposure to microgravity, both simulated on ground by the use of RPM and in real-time on board the ISS, on the biology of myoblast cell lines expressing or not IGF-1, is analyzed. The experimental procedures (cell culture, medium changes, and cell lysis) on board the ISS are conducted by the use of specific bioreactors (STROMA) and containers (KIC), both developed by Kayser Italia.
The eventual analysis of SCs isolated from crew members before and after spaceflight, might show the differences induced by microgravity in the muscle precursor cells of the same subject. Collectively, data is obtained that defines the level (molecular, cellular, and/or functional) at which the effects induced on SCs and muscle tissue by microgravity become significant, in order to activate the atrophy process, and probably identify potential target(s) for prevention or therapeutic interventions. Moreover, the role of IGF-1, a well-known pro-myogenic (muscle producing) factor, is evaluated in the promotion of the myogenic potential in myoblasts, and counteracting atrophy induced by exposure to microgravity. The results from this point might suggest controlled expression of IGF-1 as an important tool to prevent, or counteract, spaceflight-associated muscle atrophy.

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Space Applications
Microgravity induced muscle loss represents a major obstacle to human long-term spaceflight. This investigation supports development of ways to counteract this loss by improving understanding of the mechanisms behind it. Such measures are needed to protect astronaut health during long-term missions.

Earth Applications
Certain diseases and conditions on Earth also result in muscle loss and people with these conditions could benefit from the countermeasures developed to protect astronauts.

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Operational Requirements and Protocols

The experiment for the flight is performed with human myoblasts and murine myoblasts (L6E9 and L6MLC/mIGF-1), using 6 Experiment Units (EU) respectively contained into 6 KIC experiment containers.
The experiment integration into the cargo vehicle is done at the launch site.
  • Pre-flight: The cells are deposited in the 6 Experiment Units (built from Kayser Italy, s.r.l.) and incubated with proper amount of chemicals. The integration of the cells into the experiment units is performed at launch site.
  • In-flight: The samples are kept in a temperature range of 25-35°C from pre-launch to orbit, but without coming in contact with the ISS. Then the payload, within 24 hours from docking, is incubated at 37°C for about 7 days (168 hrs).
  • Post-flight: At the end of incubation the Experiment Hardware are kept at -80°C in the Minus Eighty-Degree Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) on ISS, then stored at -20°C for return to ground.
  • Immediately after landing, the samples are kept at -20°C and sent to the laboratory for further analysis and investigation.

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Decadal Survey Recommendations

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Results/More Information

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Related Websites

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