Recent studies have shown that microgravity induces changes at the cellular level, including apoptosis. However, it is unknown whether microgravity affects luteal cell function. This study was performed to assess whether microgravity conditions generated by clinostat rotation induce apoptosis and affect steroidogenesis by luteal cells. Luteal cells isolated from the corpora lutea of Day 8 pregnant rats were placed in equal numbers in slide flasks (chamber slides). One slide flask was placed in the clinostat and the other served as a stationary control. At 48 h in the clinostat, whereas the levels of progesterone and total cellular protein decreased, the number of shrunken cells increased. To determine whether apoptosis occurred in shrunken cells, Comet and TUNEL assays were performed. At 48 h, the percentage of apoptotic cells in the clinostat increased compared with that in the control. To investigate how the microgravity conditions induce apoptosis, the active mitochondria in luteal cells were detected with JC-1 dye. Cells in the control consisted of many active mitochondria, which were evenly distributed throughout the cell. In contrast, cells in the clinostat displayed fewer active mitochondria, which were distributed either to the outer edge of the cell or around the nucleus. These results suggest that mitochondrial dysfunction induced by clinostat rotation could lead to apoptosis in luteal cells and suppression of progesterone production.
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