Cancer-causing genome instability is a major concern during space travel due to exposure of astronauts to potent sources of high-linear energy transfer (LET) ionizing radiation. Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are particularly susceptible to genotoxic stress, and accumulation of damage can lead to HSC dysfunction and oncogenesis. Our group recently demonstrated that aging human HSCs accumulate microsatellite instability coincident with loss of MLH1, a DNA Mismatch Repair (MMR) protein, which could reasonably predispose to radiation-induced HSC malignancies. Therefore, in an effort to reduce risk uncertainty for cancer development during deep space travel, we employed an Mlh1+/− mouse model to study the effects high-LET 56Fe ion space-like radiation. Irradiated Mlh1+/− mice showed a significantly higher incidence of lymphomagenesis with 56Fe ions compared to γ-rays and unirradiated mice, and malignancy correlated with increased MSI in the tumors. In addition, whole-exome sequencing analysis revealed high SNVs and INDELs in lymphomas being driven by loss of Mlh1 and frequently mutated genes had a strong correlation with human leukemias. Therefore, the data suggest that age-related MMR deficiencies could lead to HSC malignancies after space radiation, and that countermeasure strategies will be required to adequately protect the astronaut population on the journey to Mars.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research