Gap IM-102: Evaluate the effects of altered atmospheric conditions such as elevated CO2 levels or mildly hypoxic exploration atmosphere on immune dysfunction.
Last Published:  07/30/21 01:05:31 PM (Central)
Responsible Element: Human Health Countermeasures (HHC)
Status: Open
Description
Present state of knowledge: Although the published evidence can vary, the literature generally supports that persistent hypoxia negatively affects the human immune system. Distinct from spaceflight, living at altitude (which entails some level of hypoxia) generally manifests as an ‘immune activator’, with findings that include enhanced cytotoxic effects and persistent inflammation. In addition, hypoxia seems to have a suppressive effect on certain aspects of innate immunity, and may even have a beneficial effect for diseases of T cell activation such as asthma. A NASA study at Concordia Station, an Antarctic research station located at an altitude of 10,607 ft, documented a similar pattern of hypoxic immune activation, rendering Concordia a less than attractive ground analog for spaceflight-induced immune dysregulation. The Exploration Atmosphere intended for use in planetary habitats and rovers is proposed to be comprised of 34% oxygen at a pressure of 8.2psi, which equates to an approximate earth altitude of 4000 ft and therefore creates a mildly hypobaric hypoxic environment. This will be interspersed with intermittent mildly hyperoxic EVA activities. While the intent of using this atmosphere is to enable a more robust and flexible environment from which to conduct extravehicular activities (EVAs) the addition of this atmospheric parameter may affect the immune system. At present, NASA has no information regarding the potential effects of such ‘oxic shifts’ on an already-dysregulated system such as the immune system. While previous research has linked hypercapnia to immune modulation, little evidence exists that the levels found onboard the ISS contribute to immune dysfunction, and further analyses to lay this concern to rest may be warranted.

Research approach: HRP will fund studies via solicited and directed mechanisms as deemed necessary. Examples of types of studies that may be conducted include but are not limited to: Evaluation of immune function as a supplemental objective in future CO2 dose-response studies and in future bedrest or environmental chamber studies chronically exposing subjects to the exploration atmosphere. Further retrospective data mining of immune metrics vs. ISS CO2 levels may also be pursued.
Target for Closure
Understand the contribution of altered atmospheric conditions to immune dysfunction, update our knowledge of the risk, contribute to development of human health Standards, and update the list of required countermeasures. 
Mappings
Risk Risk of Adverse Health Event Due to Altered Immune Response
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