Microgravity and immune responsiveness: Implications for space travel

Andrea T. Borchers, Carl L Keen, M. Eric Gershwin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

92 Scopus citations


To date, several hundred cosmonauts and astronauts have flown in space, yet knowledge about the adaptation of their immune system to space flight is rather limited. It is evident that a variety of immune parameters are changed during and after space flight, but the magnitude and pattern of these changes can differ dramatically between missions and even between crew members on the same mission. A literature search was conducted involving a total of 335 papers published between 1972 and 2002 that dealt with the key words immune response, microgravity and astronauts/cosmonauts, isolation, gravity, and human health. The data from multiple studies suggested that major discrepancies in outcome are due to methodologic differences. However, the data also suggested major factors that affect and modulate the immune response during space travel. In part at least, these discrepancies can be attributed to methodologic differences. In addition, a variety of other features, in particular the types and extent of stressors encountered during space missions, are likely to contribute to the variability of immune responses during and after space flight. That stress plays an important role in the effects of space flight on immunologic parameters is suggested by the frequent findings that stress hormones are upregulated during and after space flight. Unfortunately, however, the existing data on hormonal parameters are almost as varied as those on immunologic changes, and correlations between the two datasets have only rarely been attempted. The functional implications of space flight-induced alterations in immune response largely remain to be elucidated, but the data suggest that long-term travel will be associated with the development of immune-compromised hosts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)889-898
Number of pages10
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2002


  • Immunity
  • Microgravity
  • Space flight
  • Stress
  • Stress hormones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Surgery
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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