Exposure to microgravity (µG) during space flights produces a state of immunosuppression, leading to increased viral shedding, which could interfere with long term missions. However, the cellular mechanisms that underlie the immunosuppressive effects of µG are ill-defined. A deep understanding of human immune adaptations to µG is a necessary first step to design data-driven interventions aimed at preserving astronauts’ immune defense during short- and long-term spaceflights.
We employed a high-dimensional mass cytometry approach to characterize over 250 cell-specific functional responses in 18 innate and adaptive immune cell subsets exposed to 1G or simulated (s)µG using the Rotating Wall Vessel. A statistically stringent elastic net method produced a multivariate model that accurately stratified immune responses observed in 1G and sµG (p value 2E−4, cross-validation). Aspects of our analysis resonated with prior knowledge of human immune adaptations to µG, including the dampening of Natural Killer, CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses. Remarkably, we found that sµG enhanced STAT5 signaling responses of immunosuppressive Tregs.
Our results suggest µG exerts a dual effect on the human immune system, simultaneously dampening cytotoxic responses while enhancing Treg function. Our study provides a single-cell readout of sµG-induced immune dysfunctions and an analytical framework for future studies of human immune adaptations to human long-term spaceflights