The purpose of this study was to determine whether nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase-derived stress can account for unloading- and radiation-induced endothelial damage and neurovascular remodeling in a mouse model. Wild-type (WT, Nox2+/+) C57BL/6 mice or Nox2–/– (B6.129S6-CYBBM) knockout (KO) mice were placed into one of the following groups: age-matched control; hindlimb unloading (HLU); low-dose/low-dose-rate radiation (LDR); or HLU with LDR simultaneously for 21 days. The mice were then sacrificed one month later. Anti-orthostatic tail suspension was used to model the unloading, fluid shift and physiological stress aspects of microgravity. The LDR was delivered using 57Co plates (0.04 Gy at 0.01 cGy/h) to the simulate whole-body irradiation, similar to that experienced while in space. Brains were isolated for characterization of various oxidative stress markers and vascular topology. The level of 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE) protein, a specific marker for lipid peroxidation, was measured. Expression of aquaporin-4 (AQP4), a water channel protein expressed in astrocyte end-feet, was quantified. Thirty days after simulated spaceflight, KO mice showed decreased apoptosis (P < 0.05) in the brain compared to WT counterparts. The HLU-dependent increase in apoptosis in WT mice was not observed in KO mice. The level of 4-HNE protein was significantly elevated in the hippocampus of the LDR with HLU treatment group compared to WT controls (P < 0.05). However, there were no significant differences among groups of Nox2-KO mice at the one-month time point. In contrast to findings in the WT animals, superoxide dismutase (SOD) level and expression of AQP4 were similar among all KO groups. In summary, for most of the parameters, the oxidative response to HLU and LDR was suppressed in Nox2-KO mice. This suggests that Nox2-containing NADPH oxidase may contribute to spaceflight environment-induced oxidative stress.

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