Astronauts Brains Change Shape After Space Missions

Posted: Feb 2 2017, 7:47am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

 

Astronauts Brains Change Shape After Space Missions
  • Astronauts show Transformations in their Brain MRIs during Trips in Outer Space
 

Astronauts show transformations in their brain MRIs during the many trips they take in the context of outer space. This is a sign that the future journey to Mars may be a difficult one indeed.

MRIs taken before and after space trips show astronauts’ brains to swell and contract during the course of the journey. This study holds many a lesson for neuroscientists. It also has a number of applications in the treatment of brain diseases that detrimentally affect the functioning of this billion dollar computer.

"The findings could have applications for treating other health conditions that affect brain function," says lead researcher Rachael Seidler, U-M professor of kinesiology and psychology.

This was the first study of its kind to look into the matter. What its findings show is that the mass of gray matter in the brain underwent an increase or decrease depending on the time span that was spent in outer space.

MRIs were carried out on a dozen astronauts who spent a fortnight in the space shuttle. Also 14 astronauts who spent half a year aboard the ISS were tested.

The increases and decreases in gray matter was evident from the start. Also these changes increased with the prolongation of the time period spent in space. 

A redistribution of cerebrospinal fluid was the most common symptom that occurred among the astronauts. Since normal conditions of gravity are missing, the fluid is not pulled downwards causing the astronaut’s faces to puff up in response to this anomaly.

Also brain position or constriction may show radical changes that are for obvious reasons a cause for concern. The brain centers concerned with leg movements especially tend to suffer the most. Moving in microgravity is a daunting task.

The ISS astronauts showed this in a pronounced manner since they were constantly busy doing stuff. Normally these astronauts did a particular activity for an hour or so. Yet the effects that resulted from this limited time spent engaged in the activity were equivalent to doing it for lengthy periods of time. 

This is a paradox and it clearly shows evidence of the neuroplasticity of the human brain. It is a versatile organ that learns to adapt to the most extreme of situations and conditions. Meanwhile the kinds of changes that occur are still under investigation.

People who are constantly lying in bed due to a malady or who have large amounts of cerebrospinal fluid pooled up in the brain could be helped as regards their affliction in the future thanks to this research. The study was carried out courtesy of a generous fund from NASA. 

The study titled, "Brain structural plasticity with spaceflight," published in the journal Nature Microgravity.

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