The Effects of Simulated Microgravity on the Seminiferous Tubules of Rats

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Space flight has been shown to have many adverse effects on various systems throughout the body. Because the opportunity to place research animals on board a Space Shuttle or the International Space Station is infrequent, various techniques have been designed to simulate the effects of microgravity in Earth based laboratories. A commonly used technique is known as antiorthostatic suspension, also often referred to as hind limb suspension. In this technique the hind portion of the animal is raised so that its hind limbs are non-weight bearing. This places the animal in roughly a 30° head down tilt position. This results in cephalic fluid shifts similar to those seen in actual space flight. This technique has also been shown to mimic other physiological parameters that are affected during space flight. This study examined testicular tissue from rats subjected to a 7 day antiorthostatic suspension. This tissue was acquired through a tissue sharing program and some of the experimental animals were injected with Interleukin 1 receptor antagonist (IL-1ra) which was hoped to ameliorate some of the effects of antiorthostatic suspension. The injection of IL-1ra was not expected to have any effect on testicular tissue, however this tissue was included in the morphological and statistical analysis to conduct a more complete study. All tissues were embedded in paraffin, sectioned, and stained using standard H&E staining. The tissue was then qualitatively ranked according to the "health" of the seminiferous tubules. Our findings indicate that 7 days of antiorthostatic suspension had adverse effects on the tissue that comprises the walls of the seminiferous tubules. It has long been known that antiorthostatic suspension has deleterious effects on testicular tissue, however this research indicates that these effects occur much faster than indicated by previous researchers. This is a significant finding because it indicates that meaningful earth based studies in this area can be carried out in a shorter time span. This could result in more studies per year as well as saving money by avoiding longer than necessary animal suspensions. This is especially important as we enter an era when, without Space Shuttle, flight opportunities will become scarce. These antiorthostatic suspension studies indicate that space flight, even short duration spaceflight, may have harmful effects on the seminiferous tubules and blood-testis barrier of astronauts.