The impact of long-term exposure to space environment on adult mammalian organisms: A study on mouse thyroid and testis

Maria Angela Masini, Elisabetta Albi, Cristina Barmo, Tommaso Bonfiglio, Lara Bruni, Laura Canesi, Samuela Cataldi, Francesco Curcio, Marta D'Amora, Ivana Ferri, Katsumasa Goto, Fuminori Kawano, Remo Lazzarini, Elisabetta Loreti, Naoya Nakai, Takashi Ohira, Yoshinobu Ohira, Silvio Palmero, Paola Prato, Franco RicciLinda Scarabelli, Tsubasa Shibaguchi, Renza Spelat, Felice Strollo, Francesco Saverio Ambesi-Impiombato

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Hormonal changes in humans during spaceflight have been demonstrated but the underlying mechanisms are still unknown. To clarify this point thyroid and testis/epididymis, both regulated by anterior pituitary gland, have been analyzed on long-term space-exposed male C57BL/10 mice, either wild type or pleiotrophin transgenic, overexpressing osteoblast stimulating factor-1. Glands were submitted to morphological and functional analysis. In thyroids, volumetric ratios between thyrocytes and colloid were measured. cAMP production in 1027M and 1028M thyrotropin-treated samples was studied. Thyrotropin receptor and caveolin-1 were quantitized by immunoblotting and localized by immunofluorescence. In space-exposed animals, both basal and thyrotropin-stimulated cAMP production were always higher. Also, the structure of thyroid follicles appeared more organized, while thyrotropin receptor and caveolin-1 were overexpressed. Unlike the control samples, in the space samples thyrotropin receptor and caveolin-1 were both observed at the intracellular junctions, suggesting their interaction in specific cell membrane microdomains. In testes, immunofluorescent reaction for 3b- steroid dehydrogenase was performed and the relative expressions of hormone receptors and interleukin-1b were quantified by RT-PCR. Epididymal sperm number was counted. In space-exposed animals, the presence of 3b and 17b steroid dehydrogenase was reduced. Also, the expression of androgen and follicle stimulating hormone receptors increased while lutenizing hormone receptor levels were not affected. The interleukin 1 b expression was upregulated. The tubular architecture was altered and the sperm cell number was significantly reduced in spaceflight mouse epididymis (approx. 290% vs. laboratory and ground controls), indicating that the space environment may lead to degenerative changes in seminiferous tubules. Space-induced changes of structure and function of thyroid and testis/epididymis could be responsible for variations of hormone levels in human during space missions. More research, hopefully a reflight of MDS, would be needed to establish whether the space environment acts directly on the peripheral glands or induces changes in the hypotalamus-pituitary-glandular axis.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere35418
Pages (from-to)-
JournalPLoS One
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 25 Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

Cite this

Masini, M. A., Albi, E., Barmo, C., Bonfiglio, T., Bruni, L., Canesi, L., ... Ambesi-Impiombato, F. S. (2012). The impact of long-term exposure to space environment on adult mammalian organisms: A study on mouse thyroid and testis. PLoS One, 7(4), -. [e35418].