Brochure: horizons mission (2018)
horizons – a journey of discovery for science an society
What influence does gravity have on gene regulation and the function of immune cells? How do these cells adapt to changing gravitational conditions and other environmental factors? The experiment series ‘Gene Control Prime’ will attempt to answer these questions in order to find out about the cellular and molecular causes of impaired immune behaviour in microgravity. Gene Control Prime is looking for evidence of the effect of space conditions on the human immune system and bone metabolism. The results should help to understand the general causes of immunodeficiency and to develop new therapies. Understanding the molecular regulatory mechanisms of the immune system is as important for future long-term missions by astronauts as it is for humans on Earth.
A pharmaceutically influenced regulation of the function of bone-degrading cells, the osteoclasts, opens up new possibilities for combatting bone atrophy in humans on Earth. Earlier experiments have provided evidence that epigenetic mechanisms play a major role here. Under the influence of external factors – such as microgravity –, they allow the nucleus to regulate when and to what extent which genes are switched on and off. Thus, these mechanisms mediate the gravitational influence on the genes (gene expression). In this case, the gene sequence is not changed, but chromosome sections are influenced in their activity. Among other things, these processes play a role in the complex regulation of the immune system and enable adaptation to new environmental conditions. However, this can also lead to malfunctions. Part of the experiment therefore investigates the activation processes in bone-degrading cells under different gravitational conditions.
Another part of the experiment focuses on the phagocytes of the immune system, the macrophages, and investigates, among other things, genome-wide transcriptional changes and modified, DNA-bound proteins. In this way, specific factors that regulate gene expression by gravity will be identified. The experiment looks for key parameters for the control of human macrophages and osteoclasts in microgravity and examines their adaptability to particular environmental conditions.