Spaceflight influences gene expression, photoreceptor integrity, and oxidative stress-related damage in the murine retina

Eliah G Overbey, Willian Abraham da Silveira, Seta Stanbouly, Nina C Nishiyama, Gina D Roque-Torres, Michael J Pecaut, David Carl Zawieja, Charles Wang, Jeffrey S Willey, Michael D Delp, Gary Hardiman, Xiao Wen Mao

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Extended spaceflight has been shown to adversely affect astronaut visual acuity. The purpose of this study was to determine whether spaceflight alters gene expression profiles and induces oxidative damage in the retina. Ten week old adult C57BL/6 male mice were flown aboard the ISS for 35 days and returned to Earth alive. Ground control mice were maintained on Earth under identical environmental conditions. Within 38 (+/-4) hours after splashdown, mice ocular tissues were collected for analysis. RNA sequencing detected 600 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in murine spaceflight retinas, which were enriched for genes related to visual perception, the phototransduction pathway, and numerous retina and photoreceptor phenotype categories. Twelve DEGs were associated with retinitis pigmentosa, characterized by dystrophy of the photoreceptor layer rods and cones. Differentially expressed transcription factors indicated changes in chromatin structure, offering clues to the observed phenotypic changes. Immunofluorescence assays showed degradation of cone photoreceptors and increased retinal oxidative stress. Total retinal, retinal pigment epithelium, and choroid layer thickness were significantly lower after spaceflight. These results indicate that retinal performance may decrease over extended periods of spaceflight and cause visual impairment.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13304
Number of pages12
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2019


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