Conclusions

Although a myriad of questions remain, available evidence clearly defines a blunting of cellular immune mechanisms during space flight. Bur not all immunological functions are affected equally. The major variable during space flight is microgravity, with its primary impact on the distribution of body fluids and on cell-to-cell adhesions and interactions, and their secondary immunological consequences. But microgravity is not the only variable that must be considered. Short- and long-term effects of ever-varying solar and space-generated radiation can have troublesome, but yet unquantified effects on the immune system of space travelers. The altered and redistributed microbiological flora of space vehicles, and their crews, undoubtedly impact on body defenses and immunological functions, as do stress-induced responses of the endocrine and neuroendocrine systems.

Infectious diseases do occur with some frequency during space flights, but the clinical relevance of documented immune system changes has not been proven. Although the immunological dysfunctions observed in laboratory tests have not as yet been accompanied by serious communicable infections among crew members, immunological concerns remain highly relevant whenever longer and more distant space travels are planned.

See also: Neuroendocrine regulation of immunity; Radiation, effects on immune system; Stress and the immune system.

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