Laboratory of Space Medicine and Space Pharmacology

Space Biology and Life Sciences, Professor Dr. med. Daniela Gabriele Grimm

Parabolic flights

Parabolic flights have initially been used to practice the behaviour for astronauts in weightlessness. Today they are mostly used for scientific experiments in weightlessness (microgravity) and to test space technology. In Europe the parabolic flight campaigns are performed with an Airbus A300 ZERO-G from the airport Bordeaux-Mérignac in France.
The flight area are settled on the Atlantic Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea. To perform a parabolic flight, the investigators use the flight opportunities, which are offered by the French company Novespace. There are three opportunities: The campaigns from DLR (once or twice a year), ESA (up to three times a year) or CNES (once or twice a year).
A DLR-parabolic flight usually consists of three flight days with three to four flight hours each, contenting 31 parabolas each day. The plane will start from a horizontal position to do a strong rise, then it reduces the propulsive force of the turbines and flies a parabola, during which for 22 sec microgravity predominates. Taken together, researches will have 35 minutes of microgravity during each campaign, changing between normal and double gravitational acceleration.
taken from www.dlr.de, for further informations please contact
Dr. Ulrike Friedrich
Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR)
Tel.: +49 228 447-323
Fax: +49 228 447-735


So far we had the opportunity to attend a total of seven DLR parabolic flight campaigns between 2008 and 2014 (campaigns 12, 13, 14, 16, 20, 24 and 25), and we look forward to use them in the future as a valuable tool for research under microgravity.
Below you find a selection of our results from these experiments:

Differential Gene Regulation under Altered Gravity Conditions in Follicular Thyroid Cancer Cells: Relationship between the Extracellular Matrix and the Cytoskeleton

Extracellular matrix proteins, adhesion molecules, and cytoskeletal proteins form a dynamic network interacting with signalling molecules as an adaptive response to altered gravity. An important issue is the exact differentiation between real microgravity responses of the cells or cellular reactions to hypergravity and/or vibrations. To determine the effects of real microgravity on human cells, we used four DLR parabolic flight campaigns and focused on the effects of short-term microgravity (22 s), hypergravity (1.8 g), and vibrations on ML-1 thyroid cancer cells.

No signs of apoptosis or necrosis were detectable.

apoptosis

Gene array analysis revealed 2,430 significantly changed transcripts.

network

After 22 s microgravity, the F-actin and cytokeratin cytoskeleton was altered, and ACTB and KRT80 mRNAs were significantly upregulated after the first and thirty-first parabolas.

actin

The COL4A5 mRNA was downregulated under microgravity, whereas OPN and FN were significantly upregulated. Hypergravity and vibrations did not change ACTB, KRT-80 or COL4A5 mRNA. MTSS1 and LIMA1 mRNAs were downregulated/slightly upregulated under microgravity, upregulated in hypergravity and unchanged by vibrations.

PCR

These data indicate that the graviresponse of ML-1 cells occurred very early, within the first few seconds. Downregulated MTSS1 and upregulated LIMA1 may be an adaptive mechanism of human cells for stabilizing the cytoskeleton under microgravity conditions.

(all figures taken from Ulbrich C, et al. Differential gene regulation under altered gravity conditions in follicular thyroid cancer cells: relationship between the extracellular matrix and the cytoskeleton. Cell Physiol Biochem. 2011;28(2):185-98.)