BACKGROUND: Space travel-associated stressors such as microgravity or radiation exposure have been reported in astronauts after short-and long-duration missions aboard the International Space Station. Despite risk mitigation strategies, adverse health effects remain a concern. Thus, there is a need to develop new diagnostic tools to facilitate early detection of physiological stress. METHODS AND RESULTS: We measured the levels of circulating cell-free mitochondrial DNA in blood plasma of 14 astronauts 10 days before launch, the day of landing, and 3 days after return. Our results revealed a significant increase of cell-free mitochondrial DNA in the plasma on the day of landing and 3 days after return with vast ~2 to 355-fold interastronaut variability. In addition, gene expression analysis of peripheral blood mononuclear cells revealed a significant increase in markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage. CONCLUSIONS: Our study suggests that cell-free mitochondrial DNA abundance might be a biomarker of stress or immune response related to microgravity, radiation, and other environmental factors during space flight.
- Cell-free DNA
- Space medicine