The response of structure and function of the gravireceptor in a vertebrate to near weightlessness.


The paper sums up results of a 7-day space flight experiment (D-l-Mission-BW-STA 00-STATEX) using growing frog embryos and larvae (Xenopus laevis) as a model system. Evaluation of photographs taken from the surface of sectioned deep-frozen objects, and micrographs using TEM and SEM show no aberrations in the shape, size, position, or respective electron density of the otolith membranes in larvae developed for 154 h under near-zero g. The further evaluation of the "weightless larvae" revealed a probably not yet described otolith-like formation below the dorsal wall of the vestibulum. In the weightless larvae this formation outnumbers, also qualitatively, strongly the 1-g control samples. The swimming behavior of the tadpoles which was observed about one hour after landing of the Space Shuttle showed a typical anomaly (loop swimming), which is known from larvae developed on the clinostat or from fish flown aboard Apollo capsules. An extra result is the lack of striking effects of cosmic radiation on the embryonic development of the flown Xenopus eggs.