Long-term space flight creates unique environmental conditions to which the vestibular system must adapt for optimal survival of a given organism. The development and maintenance of vestibular connections are controlled by environmental gravitational stimulation as well as genetically controlled molecular interactions. This paper describes the effects of hypergravity on axonal growth and dendritic morphology, respectively. Two aspects of this vestibular adaptation are examined: (1) How does long-term exposure to hypergravity affect the development of vestibular axons? (2) How does short-term exposure to extremely rapid changes in gravity, such as those that occur during shuttle launch and landing, affect dendrites of the vestibulocerebellar system? To study the effects of long-term exposures to altered gravity, embryonic rats that developed in hypergravity were compared to microgravity-exposed and control rats. Examination of the vestibular projections from epithelia devoted to linear and angular acceleration revealed that the terminal fields segregate differently in rat embryos that gestated in each of the gravitational environments. To study the effects of short-term exposures to altered gravity, mice were exposed briefly to strong vestibular stimuli and the vestibulocerebellum was examined for any resulting morphological changes. My data show that these stimuli cause intense vestibular excitation of cerebellar Purkinje cells, which induce up-regulation of clathrin-mediated endocytosis and other morphological changes that are comparable to those seen in long-term depression. This system provides a basis for studying how the vestibular environment can modify cerebellar function, allowing animals to adapt to new environments.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Space and Planetary Science
- Astronomy and Astrophysics