Reactivation of latent viruses is associated with increased plasma cytokines in astronauts

S. K. Mehta, B. E. Crucian, R. P. Stowe, R. J. Simpson, C. M. Ott, C. F. Sams, D. L. Pierson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Success of long duration space missions will depend upon robust immunity. Decreased immunity has been observed in astronauts during short duration missions, as evident by the reactivation of latent herpes viruses. Seventeen astronauts were studied for reactivation and shedding of latent herpes viruses before, during, and after 9-14. days of 8 spaceflights. Blood, urine, and saliva samples were collected 10. days before the flight (L-10), during the flight (saliva only), 2-3. h after landing (R. +. 0), 3. days after landing (R. +. 3), and 120. days after landing (R. +. 120). Values at R. +. 120 were used as baseline levels. No shedding of viruses occurred before flight, but 9 of the 17 (designated " virus shedders" ) shed at least one or more viruses during and after flight. The remaining 8 astronauts did not shed any of the 3 target viruses (non-virus shedders). Virus-shedders showed elevations in 10 plasma cytokines (IL-1α, IL-6, IL-8, IFNγ, IL-4, IL-10, IL-12, IL-13, eotaxin, and IP-10) at R. +. 0 over baseline values. Only IL-4 and IP-10 were elevated in plasma of non-virus shedders. In virus shedders, plasma IL-4 (a Th2 cytokine) was elevated 21-fold at R. +. 0, whereas IFNγ (a Th1 cytokine) was elevated only 2-fold indicating a Th2 shift. The inflammatory cytokine IL-6 was elevated 33-fold at R. +. 0. In non-shedding astronauts at R. +. 0, only IL-4 and IP-10 levels were elevated over baseline values. Elevated cytokines began returning to normal by R. +. 3, and by R. +. 120 all except IL-4 had returned to baseline values. These data show an association between elevated plasma cytokines and increased viral reactivation in astronauts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-209
Number of pages5
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Astronauts
  • Cytokines
  • Herpes virus reactivation
  • Spaceflight
  • Stress

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Biochemistry
  • Hematology
  • Molecular Biology


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