Cell culture models that mimic long-term exposure to microgravity provide important insights into the cellular biological adaptations of human skeletal muscle to long-term residence in space. We developed insert scaffolding for the NASA-designed rotating cell culture system (RCCS) in order to study the effects of time-averaged microgravity on the proliferation and differentiation of anchorage-dependent skeletal muscle myocytes. We hypothesized that prolonged microgravity exposure would result in the retardation of myocyte differentiation. Microgravity exposure in the RCCS resulted in increased cellular proliferation. Despite shifting to media conditions promoting cellular differentiation, 5 d later, there was an increase in cell number of approximately 62%, increases in total cellular protein (52%), and cellular proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) content (2.7 times control), and only a modest (insignificant) decrease (10%) in sarcomeric myosin protein expression. We grew cells in an inverted orientation on membrane inserts. Changes in cell number and PCNA content were the converse to those observed for cells in the RCCS. We also grew cells on inserts at unit gravity with constant mixing. Mixing accounted for part, but not all, of the effects of microgravity exposure on skeletal muscle cell cultures (53% of the RCCS effect on PCNA at 4–6 d). In summary, the mechanical effects of simulated microgravity exposure in the RCCS resulted in the maintenance of cellular proliferation, manifested as increases in cell number and expression of PCNA relative to control conditions, with only a modest reciprocal inhibition of cellular differentiation. Therefore, this model provides conditions wherein cellular differentiation and proliferation appear to be uncoupled.
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Vol. 37 • No. 3