Bone cell survival in microgravity: Evidence that modeled microgravity increases osteoblast sensitivity to apoptogens

Document Type


Publication Date



Studies were performed to evaluate the effects of modeled microgravity on the induction of osteoblast apoptosis. MC3T3-E1 osteoblast-like cells were cultured in alginate carriers in the NASA-approved high aspect ratio vessel (HARV). This system subjects the cells to a time-averaged gravitational field (vector-averaged gravity) to simulate low gravity conditions. Cells were cultured in the HARV for five days, and then examined for apoptosis. In simulated microgravity, the cells remained vital, although analysis of expressed genes indicated that there was loss of the mature osteoblast phenotype. Additionally, we noted that there was a loss of the mitochondrial membrane potential, a low level of the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2, as well as Akt protein, and the redox status of the cells was disturbed. All of these parameters indicated that vector-averaged gravity disrupts mitochondrial function, thereby sensitizing osteoblasts to apoptosis. We then used a challenge assay to evaluate the apoptotic sensitivity of the cells subjected to vector-averaged gravity. When challenged with staurosporine, cells subjected to vector-averaged gravity evidenced elevated levels of cell death relative to control cell populations. Another objective of the study was to improve upon conventional carriers by using alginate encapsulation to support cells in the HARV. We have demonstrated that the alginate carrier system affords a more robust system than surface-seeded carriers. This new system has the advantage of shielding cells from mechanical damage and fluid shear stresses on cells in the HARV, permitting carefully controlled studies of the effects of vector-averaged gravity.

Publication Title

Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences



First Page


Last Page



This article was published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Volume 1027, Issue , Pages 64-73.

The published version is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1196/annals.1324.007.

Copyright © 2004.

This document is currently not available here.