In space, living organisms are exposed to multiple stress factors including microgravity and space radiation. For humans, these harmful environmental factors have been known to cause negative health impacts such as bone loss and immune dysfunction. Understanding the mechanisms by which spaceflight impacts human health at the molecular level is critical not only for accurately assessing the risks associated with spaceflight, but also for developing effective countermeasures. Over the years, a number of studies have been conducted under real or simulated space conditions. RNA and protein levels in cellular and animal models have been targeted in order to identify pathways affected by spaceflight. Of the many pathways responsive to the space environment, the nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB) network appears to commonly be affected across many different cell types under the true or simulated spaceflight conditions. NF-κB is of particular interest, as it is associated with many of the spaceflight-related health consequences. This review intends to summarize the transcriptomics studies that identified NF-κB as a responsive pathway to ground-based simulated microgravity or the true spaceflight condition. These studies were carried out using either human cell or animal models. In addition, the review summarizes the studies that focused specifically on NF-κB pathway in specific cell types or organ tissues as related to the known spaceflight-related health risks including immune dysfunction, bone loss, muscle atrophy, central nerve system (CNS) dysfunction, and risks associated with space radiation. Whether the NF-κB pathway is activated or inhibited in space is dependent on the cell type, but the potential health impact appeared to be always negative. It is argued that more studies on NF-κB should be conducted to fully understand this particular pathway for the benefit of crew health in space.
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