Neuroimaging study finds significant changes in brain structure during long-duration space flight

Before (Pan­el A) and After (Pan­el B) long term space flight. Cred­it: The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine.

MRI reveals brain changes dur­ing space mis­sions (Med­ical Physics):

Astro­nauts liv­ing and work­ing in space will expe­ri­ence the detri­men­tal effects of micro­grav­i­ty on the human body. Astro­nauts aboard the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion, for exam­ple, have expe­ri­enced altered vision and increased pres­sure inside their heads, symp­toms termed as visu­al impair­ment intracra­nial pres­sure (VIIP) syndrome…“Exposure to the space envi­ron­ment has per­ma­nent effects on humans that we sim­ply do not under­stand,” said Roberts. “What astro­nauts expe­ri­ence in space must be mit­i­gat­ed to pro­duce safer space trav­el for the public…”

Roberts con­clud­ed that sig­nif­i­cant changes in brain struc­ture occur dur­ing long-dura­tion space flight, and that the parts of the brain that are most affect­ed are the frontal and pari­etal lobes, which con­trol move­ment and high­er exec­u­tive func­tion. The longer an astro­naut stayed in space, the worse the symp­toms of VIIP syn­drome would be.”

The Study

Effects of Space­flight on Astro­naut Brain Struc­ture as Indi­cat­ed on MRI (The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine). From the Abstract:

  • BACKGROUND: There is lim­it­ed infor­ma­tion regard­ing the effects of space­flight on the anatom­i­cal con­fig­u­ra­tion of the brain and on cere­brospinal flu­id (CSF) spaces.
  • METHODS: We used mag­net­ic res­o­nance imag­ing (MRI) to com­pare images of 18 astro­nauts’ brains before and after mis­sions of long dura­tion, involv­ing stays on the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion, and of 16 astro­nauts’ brains before and after mis­sions of short dura­tion, involv­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Space Shut­tle Program.
  • CONCLUSIONS: Nar­row­ing of the cen­tral sul­cus, upward shift of the brain, and nar­row­ing of CSF spaces at the ver­tex occurred fre­quent­ly and pre­dom­i­nant­ly in astro­nauts after long-dura­tion flights. Fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion, includ­ing repeat­ed post­flight imag­ing con­duct­ed after some time on Earth, is required to deter­mine the dura­tion and clin­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance of these changes.

The Study in Context

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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