Deep space travel exposes astronauts to extended periods of space radiation and mechanical unloading, both of which may induce significant muscle and bone loss. Astronauts are exposed to space radiation from solar particle events (SPE) and background radiation referred to as galactic cosmic radiation (GCR). To explore interactions between skeletal muscle and bone under these conditions, we hypothesized that decreased mechanical load, as in the microgravity of space, would lead to increased susceptibility to space radiation-induced bone and muscle loss. We evaluated changes in bone and muscle of mice exposed to hind limb suspension (HLS) unloading alone or in addition to proton and high (H) atomic number (Z) and energy (E) (HZE) (16O) radiation. Adult male C57Bl/6J mice were randomly assigned to six groups: No radiation ± HLS, 50 cGy proton radiation ± HLS, and 50 cGy proton radiation + 10 cGy 16O radiation ± HLS. Radiation alone did not induce bone or muscle loss, whereas HLS alone resulted in both bone and muscle loss. Absolute trabecular and cortical bone volume fraction (BV/TV) was decreased 24% and 6% in HLS-no radiation vs the normally loaded no-radiation group. Trabecular thickness and mineral density also decreased with HLS. For some outcomes, such as BV/TV, trabecular number and tissue mineral density, additional bone loss was observed in the HLS+proton+HZE radiation group compared to HLS alone. In contrast, whereas HLS alone decreased muscle mass (19% gastrocnemius, 35% quadriceps), protein synthesis, and increased proteasome activity, radiation did not exacerbate these catabolic outcomes. Our results suggest that combining simulated space radiation with HLS results in additional bone loss that may not be experienced by muscle.
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