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Adv Space Biol Med. 2003;9:101-31.

Developmental biology of urodele amphibians in microgravity conditions.

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  • 1Laboratory of Experimental Biology-Immunology, EA 3442: Genetic, Signaling, Differentiation, Henri Poincaré University-Nancy 1, B.P. 239, 54506 Vandoeuvre-lès-Nancy, France.


Among the urodele amphibians, only Cynops pyrrhogaster and Pleurodeles waltl, two species of the Salamandridae family, were used in space experiments. The advantages for using urodeles reside (i) in reproduction: a few months after natural breeding, females can lay eggs in absence of males after a hormonal treatment, because spermatozoa were preserved in the cloacal pelvic glands of matted females, (ii) in the rate of development which is slower in Cynops and Pleurodeles than in the anuran Xenopus, (iii) in their physiological properties: they can live in a closed water container or in a moisturized environment, and they can fast during several days. Moreover, urodeles have an important phylogenetic interest. Many biological phenomena differ from those of anurans, such as fertilization events, the germ cell origin and the migration toward the differentiating gonads, and their regeneration capabilities. The main goals of the space experiments were to answer the following questions. On the one hand, does fertilization occur normally in microgravity? Is subsequent embryonic development normal in microgravity? Is further development and reproduction normal after return to Earth? On the other hand, does microgravity affect the organs in adult animals? Does microgravity affect the regeneration of organs? Fertilization in space is clearly demonstrated. However, subsequent embryonic development appears to be altered in microgravity. In Pleurodeles, abnormalities such as cortical cytoplasmic movements, decrease of cell adhesion, and loss of cells were observed. Although, early development was not strictly normal as a consequence of embryological regulation phenomena, young hatching larvae had normal morphological phenotypes and swimming behavior. After landing, no differences were observed between born-in-space animals to standard ones during the embryonic development to adulthood. The analyses of their offspring demonstrated that the percentages of fertilization and development were in accordance with the control animals. No genetic abnormalities were detected during the analysis of the offspring. The development of their progenies were also without characteristic differences compared to control Pleurodeles. Microgravity seems to have effects on the morphological and histological structures of organs of flight adults. However, as was the case in several experiments the number of analyzed adults was low, and it is too early to conclude on specific effects of microgravity. Moreover, in certain flights the temperature was not regulated, and an increase in temperature occurred. Conditions of these space flights had certainly influenced the samples, and consequently the interpretations of results. Space flights have clear effects on organs in regeneration. But more specifically, they have long term effects that last several weeks after the return of the animals to Earth. A similar result was also obtained for otoconia several months after landing. So far, however, no clear hypothesis could be proposed to interpret these observations.

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