Our brains change as we age and grow here on Earth. But what happens to the human brain? After being in space For a long time?
In a new study, a collaborative effort between the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency RoscosmosResearchers have discovered how astronauts’ brains change after traveling to space and back. They showed how the brain adapts to spaceflight, and found that the brain is almost “rewired”, and both fluid and shape changes occur. The researchers found that these changes can persist for months after a person returns to Earth.
The strange brain changes observed by the team were “very new and very unexpected,” Floris Wuits, a researcher at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, told Space.com.
Related: The human body in space: 6 strange facts
How to study the brain in space
For this study, the international research team studied the brains of 12 male astronauts before and shortly after their flights to the International Space Station. They also observed these astronauts’ brains seven months after their return to Earth. All of the astronauts in this study took part in long-duration flights that took, on average, 172 days, or just over five and a half months.
“We initially focused on neuroplasticity to see how the brain adapts to spaceflight,” Wittes said, adding that the team also focused on the connectivity inside the astronauts’ brains.
Structural analytics [of astronaut brains] It’s already done, but no contact research has been done, Wittes said. With this paper [on] Connectivity, we are finally getting close to the answers regarding this neuroplasticity.”
To achieve this, the team used a brain imaging technology called fiber optics, a 3D reconstruction technique that uses data from diffusion MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), or magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) to study the structure and connectivity within the brain.
“The fiber-optic tracer gives a kind of wiring diagram to the brain. Our study is the first to use this specific method to detect changes in brain structure after spaceflight,” Wittes said in an emailed statement.
Wuyts explained that MRI data can tell researchers a lot about a person’s brain.
“MRI looks at the structure on the plane [of] Gray matter (like the microprocessors in a computer) and white matter (the connections on a computer’s motherboard, between all the processing units). The MRI also examines the fluid in the brain, which is called cerebrospinal fluid.”
Related: Space travel can seriously change your mind
What changes in the brain?
“After spaceflight, these structures seem to have changed, mainly due to deformations from the fluid shift that occurs in space,” Wittes said. Interestingly, the team also found an increase in gray and white matter. In the brain, white matter facilitates communication between the brain’s gray matter and between the gray matter and the rest of the body.
In addition to this fluid shift, the team observed changes in shape in the brain, specifically in the corpus callosum, a large bundle of nerve fibers that Wuyts described in the statement as “the central highway that connects the two hemispheres of the brain.”
Previously, it was believed that spaceflight can cause structural changes in the corpus callosum itself. However, the team found that the proximal ventricles do indeed dilate, altering the nerve tissue of this area around the corpus callosum, and changing its shape, Wyatt explained. The ventricles of the brain are sinuses that produce and store cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.
The researchers also “found changes in the neural connections between several motor areas in the brain,” lead author Andrei Dorochin, a researcher at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, said in the statement. “Motor areas are the centers of the brain where the commands for movements are initiated. In Weightlessness, the astronaut needs to radically adapt his movement strategies, compared to the Earth. Our study shows that their brain was rewired, so to speak.”
“From previous studies, we know that these motor regions show signs of adaptation after spaceflight. Now, we have the first indication that it is also reflected in the level of connections between those regions,” Yates added in the statement.
But these changes were not noticed once the astronauts returned to Earth. In brain scans of people seven months after landing, the team found that these changes were still present.
What can he do?
This study is part of a A growing body of research This explores exactly how space travel, especially prolonged space travel, affects the human body. This isn’t the end of our understanding of the topic, but it does reveal new insights into how the brain is affected, information that researchers can use to better protect when they go into space.
“Our research shows that we must call in countermeasures to ensure that fluid shifts and brain shape changes are limited,” Wittes told Space.com.
One measure that could reduce these effects, Wittes added, is artificial gravity. Artificial gravity, in theory, is created by an inertial force to replicate the feeling of gravity, for example, we experience here on Earth. An ancient staple in science fiction, Scientists in recent years They began to turn this concept into reality.
The use of artificial gravity on board the space station or [a] A rocket to Mars is likely to solve the fluid shift problem. A spinning donut like the 2001 Stanley Kubrick movie Space Odyssey is a great example of what can be perfect. However, it is difficult to realize it. However, this might be the way to go. “Future research will be revealed,” Waits said.
This was work Posted Friday (February 18) in Frontiers in Neural Circuits.
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