Space Travel Can Seriously Affect the Brain of Astronauts

05 November, 2017, 01:23 | Author: Dustin Murphy
  • Using MRI scans Dr Roberts evaluated brain changes both during and after long-term bed rest. Results confirmed brain changes occurred during bed rest

The changes were more common in astronauts who took longer trips into space.

Altered vision and increased pressure inside the head are among the physiological changes both men and women experience following space flight. This is exactly what NASA calls visual impairment and intracranial pressure syndrome (VIIP).

VIIP syndrome is thought to be related to the redistribution of body fluid toward the head during long-term microgravity exposure, but the exact cause is unknown.

Focusing specifically on astronauts who embarked on longer missions, 94% of these participants had a narrowing of their brain's central sulcus - a groove that separates the frontal and parietal lobes - compared to only 19% of astronauts on shorter journeys.

"We know these long-duration flights take a big toll on the astronauts and cosmonauts; however, we don't know if the adverse effects on the body continue to progress or if they stabilize after some time in space", Roberts said in a press release. "These are the questions that we are interested in addressing, especially what happens to the human brain and brain function?"


Cine clips from a subgroup of astronauts showed an upward shift of the brain after all long-duration flights (12 astronauts) but not after short-duration flights (six astronauts) and narrowing of CSF spaces at the vertex after all long-duration flights (12 astronauts) and in one of six astronauts after short-duration flights. This phenomenon affects the top of the brain, which is in control of sight. She also saw evidence of a narrowing of the space between the top of the brain and the inside of the skull.

"Maintaining this position for a long period of time has been associated with upward and posterior brain shift, increased density of brain tissue at the vertex, contraction of adjacent extraaxial cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) spaces and increased ventricular volume", said lead author Donna R. Robert, MD, from the Medical University of SC. A General shift of the brain up found 12 astronauts long missions not found in astronauts performing short flights.

Since astronauts on a mission to Mars will need their wits about them, NASA and outside scientists have been keen to assess the effects of prolonged weightlessness on the three pounds of protoplasm inside the skull. Roberts said it's possible that research examining the brain changes of astronauts could benefit those with IIH, in that new treatments could be developed. C and D are for short-term spaceflight. She is also participating as a researcher in a long-term bed rest study in Germany that exposes participants to higher levels of carbon dioxide, to simulate the levels that astronauts experience on the station. A new study may help explain what causes some of these maladies.

The astronauts' brains likely drifted upward due to the lack of gravity in space. Given safety concerns and the potential impact to human exploration goals, NASA has made determining the cause of VIIP syndrome and how to resolve its effects a top priority. Experts in the course of the year space travel, and after his return to Earth has studied changes in the body Kelly. For instance, it's not clear whether or not these changes are permanent or irreversible.

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