Can Microgravity Alter the Ability of the Brain to Self-Repair?
The effects of spaceflight on the human body are largely unknown. Research suggests that spaceflight results in a decline of cognitive ability, although the reasons behind it are not known. The purpose of our study was to test the hypothesis that simulated microgravity would impair the function of neural stem cells. Neural stem cells function to produce the different cell types in the brain, in addition to more stem cells. To test our hypothesis, we isolated and cultured cells in vitro from embryonic chicken brains in neurosphere assays with growth factors. Neurosphere assays test for stem cells via their function –the ability to produce more stem cells (to self-renew) and the different cell types in the brain. We assessed the number of neurospheres and, using antibodies specific to each cell type, their ability to produce the three main types of neural cells in the brain, neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. Confocal laser-scanning microscopy was used to capture images of the fluorescent labels attached to each cell type. Initial experiments were performed under normal gravity, whereas future experiments will be under simulated microgravity. We hope to discover whether or not simulated microgravity has an effect on the function of neural stem cells.