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Antibody production gets confused during long-term spaceflight

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New research in the FASEB Journal suggests that flawed antibody production could potentially compromise resistance to infections during long-term missions and jeopardize the outcome of a space mission
Bethesda, MD—The trip to Mars just got a little more difficult now that French researchers have discovered that antibodies used to fight off disease might become seriously compromised during long-term space flight. In a new report published online in the FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org), the scientists show that antibodies produced in space are less effective than those produced on terra firma. The reduced effectiveness of antibodies makes astronauts more susceptible to illness, while increasing the danger posed by bacteria and viruses likely to coexist with wayfaring astronauts.

"We hope to find efficient pharmacological and/or nutritional countermeasures to alterations of the immune system that could be useful to astronauts and to people who have weak immune systems on Earth because of infections, aging, or chronic stress exposure," said Jean-Pol Frippiat, a researcher involved in the work from the Faculty of Medicine, Development and Immunogenetics at the Université Henri Poincaré-Nancy, Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy, France.

To make their discovery, Frippiat and colleagues conducted studies using three groups of amphibians. Amphibians were chosen for the work because they use the same cellular mechanisms to produce antibodies as humans do. The first group of amphibians was immunized in space, the second was immunized on Earth, and the third was not immunized at all. Comparison of the antibodies produced revealed that the quality of the antibodies generated by the group immunized in space was decreased. This suggests that spaceflight conditions alter the immune system and affect its ability to protect against infections and tumors, posing a serious risk for astronauts.

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