Author Archives: Simon


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Exposure to acute and prolonged microgravity triggers numerous physiological adaptations. To date, the underlying molecular mechanisms are not well understood, and several pathways have been proposed. Among other candidates, specific ion channels are hypothesized to be gravity dependent, but it has not been possible to conclusively demonstrate gravity dependency of specific protein entities. Therefore, we developed a miniaturized two-electrode voltage clamp (TEVC) that allowed electrophysiological experiments on Xenopus laevis oocytes using the GraviTower Bremen Prototype (GTB-Pro). The GTP-Pro is capable of flying experiments on a vertical parabolic trajectory, providing microgravity for a few seconds. As an interesting first candidate, we examined whether the nonselective mechanosensitive ion channel PIEZO1 is gravity dependent. The results showed no difference between PIEZO1-overexpressing and control oocytes under acute microgravity conditions.

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Light microscopes became essential tools in everyday lab work a long time ago. However, most commercial microscopes are costly, and they are often bulky and heavy. Therefore, microscopes are rarely seen in mobile applications or used by interested amateurs. Here, we present an affordable, portable single-lens microscope. It essentially uses a Raspberry Pi single-board computer, a camera, a touchscreen display, and an LED ring at its core. Apart from brightfield microscopy, contrast-enhancing methods by oblique, dark-field, and Rheinberg illumination are possible, as well. The microscope is ideal for applications that do not require high-end optical components. Due to its low cost and flexible use, it is also suitable for hands-on experiences of the fascinating world not visible by the human eye.

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Calcium Signaling during Parabolic Flight in Chondrocytes

Articular cartilage separates the bones in articulating joints (e.g. hips, knees, shoulder, etc.) and allows for almost effortless movement. The predominant cell types found in articular cartilage are termed chondrocytes and are responsible for building, maintaining and degrading the tissue. The pathological breakdown of articular cartilage results in osteoarthritis, which is a wide-spread disease in western civilizations and has a major socio-economic impact. An active lifestyle and adequate mechanical stimulation are essential for cellular health and tissue maintenance. However, to date the molecular mechanisms on how chondrocytes (cartilage cells) integrate mechanical forces into a cellular response (mechanotransduction) are not fully understood. Our aim is, therefore, to better understand the effects of mechanotransduction on cartilage degeneration and regeneration.

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Cartilage Cells on a Parabolic Flight. Is the Cytoskeleton Stable?

Adequate mechanical stimulation is essential for cellular health and tissue maintenance, including articular cartilage, which lines the articulating bones in joints. Chondrocytes, which are the sole cells found in articular cartilage, are responsible for matrix synthesis, maintenance and degradation. It is generally believed that chondrocytes require mechanical stimuli through daily physical activity for adequate cartilage homeostasis. However, to date, the molecular mechanisms of cellular force sensing (mechanotransduction) are not fully understood. Among other mechanisms, the cytoskeleton is thought to play a key role. Despite that gravity is a very small force at the cellular level, cytoskeletal adaptations have been observed under altered gravity conditions of a parabolic flight in multiple cell types. In this study, we developed a novel hardware which allowed to chemically fix primary bovine chondrocytes at 7 time points over the course of a 31-parabola flight.

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