Generation of an effective immune response requires that antigens be processed and presented to T lymphocytes by antigen-presenting cells, the most efficient of which are dendritic cells (DC). Because of their influence on both the innate and the acquired arms of immunity, a defect in DC would be expected to result in a broad impairment of immune function, not unlike that observed in astronauts during or after space flight. In the study reported here, we investigated whether DC generation and function are altered in a culture environment that models microgravity, i.e., the rotary-cell culture system (RCCS). We observed that RCCS supported the generation of DC identified by morphology, phenotype (HLA-DR and lacking lineage-associated markers), and function (high allostimulatory activity). However, the yield of DC from RCCS was significantly lower than that from static cultures. RCCS-generated DC were less able to phagocytose Aspergillus fumigatus conidia and expressed a lower density of surface HLA-DR. The proportion of DC expressing CD80 was also significantly reduced in RCCS compared to static cultures. When exposed to fungal antigens, RCCS-generated DC produced lower levels of interleukin-12 and failed to upregulate some costimulatory/adhesion molecules involved in antigen presentation. These data suggest that DC generation, and some functions needed to mount an effective immune response to pathogens, may be disturbed in the microgravity environment of space.
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Vol. 37 • No. 4