Morphological and Physiological Changes in Mature In Vitro Neuronal Networks towards Exposure to Short-, Middle- or Long-Term Simulated Microgravity
One of the objectives of the current international space programmes is to investigate the possible effects of the space environment on the crew health. The aim of this work was to assess the particular effects of simulated microgravity on mature primary neuronal networks and specially their plasticity and connectivity. For this purpose, primary mouse neurons were first grown for 10 days as a dense network before being placed in the Random Positioning Machine (RPM), simulating microgravity. These cultures were then used to investigate the impact of short- (1 h), middle- (24 h) and long-term (10 days) exposure to microgravity at the level of neurite network density, cell morphology and motility as well as cytoskeleton properties in established two-dimensional mature neuronal networks. Image processing analysis of dense neuronal networks exposed to simulated microgravity and their subsequent recovery under ground conditions revealed different neuronal responses depending on the duration period of exposure. After short- and middle-term exposures to simulated microgravity, changes in neurite network, neuron morphology and viability were observed with significant alterations followed by fast recovery processes. Long exposure to simulated microgravity revealed a high adaptation of single neurons to the new gravity conditions as well as a partial adaptation of neuronal networks. This latter was concomitant to an increase of apoptosis. However, neurons and neuronal networks exposed for long-term to simulated microgravity required longer recovery time to re-adapt to the ground gravity. In conclusion, a clear modulation in neuronal plasticity was evidenced through morphological and physiological changes in primary neuronal cultures during and after simulated microgravity exposure. These changes were dependent on the duration of exposure to microgravity.