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Human brain reshapes itself during spaceflight, study suggests

02 Février 2017

This figure shows dose response effects: blue areas are where there are more gray matter decreases in worldwide space station astronauts than in those that just spent a few weeks on the space shuttle. The longer the astronaut spent in space, the more pronounced the changes were. The first results of NASA's twin study, released just this week, revealed that space physically impacts astronauts on multiple levels, right down to shifts in gene expression.

The human brain reshapes itself during spaceflight, according to a study by a team of scientists from the University of MI.

Gray matter, which consists of neuronal cell bodies and unmyelinated axons, is responsible for controlling a variety of functions, including sensory perception, memory formation, decision-making and emotions. The researchers think that the change became very noticeable despite the relatively short amount of time the astronauts spent in orbit because their brains learned 24/7 aboard the ISS. After researchers have compared their structural scans, they established that all participants in the study proved to have experienced doth decreases and increase of the volume of gray matter in distinct regions of the brain.

"We found large regions of gray matter volume decreases, which could be related to redistribution of cerebrospinal fluid in space", Dr. Rachael Seidler, a professor of kinesiology and psychology at the university, said in a press statement.

Astronaut on space mission with sun and earth on the background. "The losses are coming from shifts in fluid in the brain that happen with flight".

The team also detected increased volumes of gray matter in brain regions controlling leg movement as well as process movement information in the legs.

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Blue shows areas of gray matter volume decrease, likely reflecting shifting of cerebrospinal fluid.

Astonishingly enough, we know nearly nothing about how space impacts the brain.

This increase may reflect the brain learning how to adapt to moving in microgravity. While it's still unclear how-or if-grey matter volume returned to pre-flight levels in the astronauts studied, Steidler is conducting a separate ongoing study that analyses astronauts' brains in the six months after their returns from space. "But the brain is really still an open question.we don't yet have available follow-up data to see how long it takes the brain to recover".

With certain Earthlings' grand ambitions to go to Mars, it's important to understand how long stints in space can affect the human body.

"In space, it's an extreme example of neuroplasticity in the brain because you're in a microgravity environment 24 hours a day". Steidler said studies like this could help medical professionals better understand brain disorders like normal pressure hydrocephalus, which is caused by a build up of fluid in the brain.

Human brain reshapes itself during spaceflight, study suggests