SPHINX - SPaceflight of Huvec: an Integrated eXperiment

Date: 2010
Coordinator: S. Bradamante, J.A.M. Maier, D.J. Duncker, M. Muller
Research domain: Cell and Molecular Biology


The objective of this study is to determine how HUVECs (Human Vascular Endothelial Cell) modify their behaviour when exposed to real microgravity. This could provide better knowledge of endothelial function, which could be useful for clinical application.



  1. To evaluate endothelial protein profile by protein arrays.
  2. To evaluate endothelial gene expression by cDNA arrays.
  3. To evaluate endothelial synthesis of nitric oxide.



It has been previously demonstrated that simulated μg reversibly stimulates the growth of macrovascular ECs (Endothelial Cell). In order to investigate the effects of microgravity on HUVEC genomics, proteomics and Nitrogen monoxide synthesis, cell cultures will be flown and incubated in microgravity for several days. At the end of this period, the culture medium will be separated from the cells and both will be fixed for postflight analysis.
The specific benefits of the proposed space experiment range from a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms influencing endothelial behaviour to the possibility of outlining new countermeasures against the astronaut cardiovascular deconditioning and bone demineralization.


  • We expect to validate in space the results obtained in endothelial cells by simulating microgravity on Earth with different devices, namely the RPM (Random Positioning Machine) and the RWV (Rotating Wall Vessel). The proposed experiments will allow to determine whether true microgravity promotes alterations in the cytokine network: this issue is relevant since different cytokines and chemokines are involved in promoting endothelial dysfunction, which is known to promote cardiovascular diseases. In space-flown cells, we will also study gene expression and the results will be compared with our studies showing the modulation of about 7% of the genes in simulated microgravity. In addition, we described an increased synthesis of nitric oxide in the RWV (Rotating Wall Vessel) and RPM (Random Positioning Machine). We therefore plan to determine the levels of nitric oxide also in space-flown cells.
  • Because endothelial cells are responsible for the integrity of the vascular wall, a better understanding of the modulation of endothelial functions in space might direct future studies to individuate potential countermeasures to prevent cardiovascular deconditioning in astronauts. In addition, vascularization being crucial for bone metabolism, we argue that our results might offer new insights also in elucidating novel strategies to prevent bone loss in space.


Further information

For more information on this experiment and in particular the Experiment procedure or specific references, please consult the ERASMUS Experiment Archive: http://eea.spaceflight.esa.int/?pg=exprec&id=9246&t=2603840492&oss=sphinx