Background: Overcoming spaceflight-induced (patho)physiologic adaptations is a major challenge preventing long-term deep space exploration. RNA interference (RNAi) has emerged as a promising therapeutic for combating diseases on Earth; however the efficacy of RNAi in space is currently unknown. Methods: Caenorhabditis elegans were prepared in liquid media on Earth using standard techniques and treated acutely with RNAi or a vector control upon arrival in Low Earth Orbit. After culturing during 4 and 8 d spaceflight, experiments were stopped by freezing at -80°C until analysis by mRNA and microRNA array chips, microscopy and Western blot on return to Earth. Ground controls (GC) on Earth were simultaneously grown under identical conditions. Results: After 8 d spaceflight, mRNA expression levels of components of the RNAi machinery were not different from that in GC (e.g., Dicer, Argonaute, Piwi; P>0.05). The expression of 228 microRNAs, of the 232 analysed, were also unaffected during 4 and 8 d spaceflight (P>0.05). In spaceflight, RNAi against green fluorescent protein (gfp) reduced chromosomal gfp expression in gonad tissue, which was not different from GC. RNAi against rbx-1 also induced abnormal chromosome segregation in the gonad during spaceflight as on Earth. Finally, culture in RNAi against lysosomal cathepsins prevented degradation of the muscle-specific α-actin protein in both spaceflight and GC conditions. Conclusions: Treatment with RNAi works as effectively in the space environment as on Earth within multiple tissues, suggesting RNAi may provide an effective tool for combating spaceflight-induced pathologies aboard future long-duration space missions. Furthermore, this is the first demonstration that RNAi can be utilised to block muscle protein degradation, both on Earth and in space.
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