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J Bone Miner Res. 2010 May;25(5):1049-57. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.091041.

Capacity of omega-3 fatty acids or eicosapentaenoic acid to counteract weightlessness-induced bone loss by inhibiting NF-kappaB activation: from cells to bed rest to astronauts.

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Universities Space Research Association, NASA Johnson Space Center, Human Adaptation and Countermeasures Division, Houston, TX 77058, USA.


NF-kappaB is a transcriptional activator of many genes, including some that lead to muscle atrophy and bone resorption-significant concerns for astronauts. NF-kappaB activation is inhibited by eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), but the influence of this omega-3 fatty acid on the effects of weightlessness are unknown. We report here cellular, ground analogue, and spaceflight findings. We investigated the effects of EPA on differentiation of RAW264.7 monocyte/macrophage cells induced by receptor activator of NF-kappaB ligand (RANKL) and on activation of NF-kappaB by tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) or exposure to modeled weightlessness. EPA (50 microM for 24 hours) inhibited RANKL-induced differentiation and decreased activation of NF-kappaB induced by 0.2 microg/mL of TNF-alpha for 30 minutes or by modeled weightlessness for 24 hours (p < .05). In human studies, we evaluated whether NF-kappaB activation was altered after short-duration spaceflight and determined the relationship between intake of omega-3 fatty acids and markers of bone resorption during bed rest and the relationship between fish intake and bone mineral density after long-duration spaceflight. NF-kappaB was elevated in crew members after short-duration spaceflight, and higher consumption of fish (a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids) was associated with reduced loss of bone mineral density after flight (p < .05). Also supporting the cell study findings, a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with less N-telopeptide excretion during bed rest (Pearson r = -0.62, p < .05). Together these data provide mechanistic cellular and preliminary human evidence of the potential for EPA to counteract bone loss associated with spaceflight.

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