Previously our laboratory documented increases in calvaria bone volume and thickness in mice exposed to 15 days of spaceflight aboard the NASA Shuttle mission STS-131. However, the tissues were not processed for gene expression studies to determine what bone formation pathways might contribute to these structural adaptations. Therefore, this study was designed to investigate both the structural and molecular changes in mice calvariae after a longer duration of spaceflight. The primary purpose was to determine the calvaria bone volume and thickness of mice exposed to 30 days of spaceflight using micro-computed tomography for comparison with our previous findings. Because sclerostin, the secreted glycoprotein of the Sost gene, is a potent inhibitor of bone formation, our second aim was to quantify Sost mRNA expression using quantitative PCR. Calvariae were obtained from six mice aboard the Russian 30-day Bion-M1 biosatellite and seven ground controls. In mice exposed to 30 days of spaceflight, calvaria bone structure was not significantly different from that of their controls (bone volume was about 5% lower in spaceflight mice, p = 0.534). However, Sost mRNA expression was 16-fold (16.4 ± 0.4, p < 0.001) greater in the spaceflight group than that in the ground control group. Therefore, bone formation may have been suppressed in mice exposed to 30 days of spaceflight. Genetic responsiveness (e.g. sex or strain of animals) or in-flight environmental conditions other than microgravity (e.g. pCO 2 levels) may have elicited different bone adaptations in STS-131 and Bion-M1 mice. Although structural results were not significant, this study provides biochemical evidence that calvaria mechanotransduction pathways may be altered during spaceflight, which could reflect vascular and interstitial fluid adaptations in non-weight bearing bones. Future studies are warranted to elucidate the processes that mediate these effects and the factors responsible for discordant calvaria bone adaptations between STS-131 and Bion-M1 mice.
Previously, 15 days of spaceflight augmented bone volume in mice calvariae.
In this study, calvaria bone structure was not altered after 30 days of spaceflight.
Sost mRNA expression was higher in murine calvariae after 30 days of spaceflight.
Longer duration, or other spaceflight factors, may negate short-term calvarial growth.