Spaceflight alters expression of microRNA during T-cell activation

Millie Hughes-Fulford, Tammy T. Chang, Emily M. Martinez, Chai-Fei Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Altered immune function has been demonstrated in astronauts during spaceflights dating back to Apollo and Skylab; this could be a major barrier to long-term space exploration. We tested the hypothesis that spaceflight causes changes in microRNA (miRNA) expression. Human leukocytes were stimulated with mitogens on board the International Space Station using an onboard normal gravity control. Bioinformatics showed that miR-21 was significantly up-regulated 2-fold during early T-cell activation in normal gravity, and gene expression was suppressed under microgravity. This was confirmed using quantitative real-time PCR (n = 4). This is the first report that spaceflight regulates miRNA expression. Global microarray analysis showed significant (P < 0.05) suppression of 85 genes under microgravity conditions compared to normal gravity samples. EGR3, FASLG, BTG2, SPRY2, and TAGAP are biologically confirmed targets and are co-up-regulated with miR-21. These genes share common promoter regions with pre-mir-21; as the miR-21 matures and accumulates, it most likely will inhibit translation of its target genes and limit the immune response. These data suggest that gravity regulates T-cell activation not only by transcription promotion but also by blocking translation via noncoding RNA mechanisms. Moreover, this study suggests that T-cell activation itself may induce a sequence of gene expressions that is self-limited by miR-21.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4893-4900
Number of pages8
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Epigenetics
  • Gene expression
  • Immune response
  • Microgravity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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