Il est bien difficile de se rononcer aujourd'hui sur l'impact d'une faible gravité sur la longévité, car nous n'avons pas de modèle correct pour réaliser les expériences. L'immersion en piscine est ce qui se repprocherait le mieux, mais il faut admettre que ce n'est pas un modèle trés représentatif pour toutes les autres conditions.
Par contre, en état de trés faible gravité, caractéristique du vol spatial, les expériences ont été nombreuses. Tous les résultats publiés dans la littérature médicale vont dans le même sens, ressemblant à s'y méprendre à un vieillissement accéléré, au moins dans un premier temps. Mais le retour sur Terre voit disparaître plus ou moins rapidement ces effets.
On peut craindre qu'un vol orbital prolongé raccourcisse l'espérance de vie.
Je ne citerai qu'une seule référence (1), car elle a le mérite de résumer une revue de la littérature, de façon assez complète en ce qui concerne les aspects hormonaux. J'en tire la phrase suivante :
"An important point is that some endocrine systems seem to undergo changes in space that resemble those observed during senescence, but after spaceflight, recovery always occurs within weeks or months after return. This is particularly true for the systems regulating bone and muscle metabolism and reproduction, exactly as happens with the immune, neurosensory, and cardiovascular systems."
(1)Adv Space Biol Med. 1999;7:99-129.
Hormonal changes in humans during spaceflight.
Postgraduate School of Aerospace Medicine, University La Sapienza, Rome, Italy.
Readers of this review may feel that there is much more that we do not know about space endocrinology than what we know. Several reasons for this state of affairs have been given: 1. the complexity of the field of endocrinology with its still increasing number of known hormones, releasing factors and precursors, and of the interactions between them through various feedback mechanisms 2. the difficulty in separating the microgravity effects from the effects of stress from launch, isolation and confinement during flight, reentry, and postflight re-adaptation 3. the experimental limitations during flight, such as limited number of subjects, limited number of samples, impossibility of collecting triple samples for pulsatile hormones like growth hormone 4. the disturbing effects of countermeasures used by astronauts 5. the inadequacy of postflight samples for conclusions about inflight values 6. limitations of conclusions from animal experiments and space simulation studies The endocrinology field is divided in to nine systems or axes, which are successively reviewed: 1. Rapid bone demineralization in the early phase of spaceflight that, when unopposed, leads to catastrophic effects after three months but that slows down later. The endocrine mechanism, apart from the effect of exercise as a countermeasure, is not yet understood. 2. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is involved in stress reactions, which complicate our understanding and makes postflight analysis dubious. 3. In the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, pulsatility poses a problem for obtaining representative values (e.g., for luteinizing hormone). Reproduction of rats in space is possible, but much more needs to be known about this aspect, particularly in women, before the advent of space colonies, but also in males because some evidence for reversible testicular dysfunction in space has been found. 4. The hypothalamic-pituitary-somato-mammotrophic axis involves prolactin and growth hormone. The latter also acts as a stress hormone and its secretion is greatly decreased in spaceflown rats, but not in astronauts, which may be due to differences in the regulation of growth hormone secretion between rats and humans. 5. The hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis involves the thyroid hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which are lowered in space, suggesting mild hypothyroidism. 6. The renin-angiotensin-aldosterone axis, which regulates water and electrolytes, involves antidiuretic hormone and two natriuretic peptides and shows paradoxical behavior in space. 7. Erythrocyte mass regulation involves erythropoietin, and space anemia is still not explained. 8. The endocrine pancreas involves insulin and glucagon, with loss of insulin sensitivity in space due to lack of exercise, which phenomenon requires more study before the advent of space colonies. 9. The sympathetic system acts through epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine and seems to have an increased activity in space in contrast to what had been widely believed. From the foregoing conclusions, it is clear that much further study is needed in all fields of space endocrinology. On the other hand, future studies will allow us to understand what happens in a given endocrine subsystem in the absence of the "gravity factor", the perturbing factor to which the human race has become adapted through thousands of years of evolution. This should provide us with a fuller understanding of the internal homeostatic mechanisms. An important point is that some endocrine systems seem to undergo changes in space that resemble those observed during senescence, but after spaceflight, recovery always occurs within weeks or months after return. This is particularly true for the systems regulating bone and muscle metabolism and reproduction, exactly as happens with the immune, neurosensory, and cardiovascular systems. Further space research may help us find new insights in the pathophysiology of aging and hopefully define novel prev