Spaceflight affects neuronal morphology and alters transcellular degradation of neuronal debris in adult Caenorhabditis elegans

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Extended space travel is a goal of government space agencies and private companies. However, spaceflight poses risks to human health, and the effects on the nervous system have to be better characterized. Here, we exploited the unique experimental advantages of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans to explore how spaceflight affects adult neurons in vivo. We found that animals that lived 5 days of adulthood on the International Space Station exhibited hyperbranching in PVD and touch receptor neurons. We also found that, in the presence of a neuronal proteotoxic stress, spaceflight promotes a remarkable accumulation of neuronal-derived waste in the surrounding tissues, suggesting an impaired transcellular degradation of debris released from neurons. Our data reveal that spaceflight can significantly affect adult neuronal morphology and clearance of neuronal trash, highlighting the need to carefully assess the risks of long-duration spaceflight on the nervous system and to develop adequate countermeasures for safe space exploration. Neuroscience; developmental neuroscience; space sciences