Could space travel change the structure of our brains?

Could space travel change the structure of our brains?

Researchers who have studied the brains of 12 cosmonauts have found what they describe as "significant microstructural changes" in the white matter that manages communications within the brain and to and from the rest of the body.

The data they were obtained through diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) scans taken shortly before and immediately after the participants' time in space, which lasted an average of 172 days. Further scans were done seven months later, and while there was a reversal of some changes, some of them were still visible. Specifically, the team found changes in neural traits related to sensory function. and motor and hypothesizes that this could have something to do with the adaptation of cosmonauts to life in microgravity.

"Considering the different physics and kinesthetics that apply to the extreme environment of space and the hypothesis that these have significant effects on brain representation and control of the body, these traits are therefore suspected to reflect this altered sensorimotor function shown in space travelers, ”the team wrote.

This is the first time that a brain imaging technique known as fiber tractography was used in relation to the effects of space flight. The technique constructs a 3D image of neuronal tracts, revealing the brain's wiring pattern. Changes in the brain of space travelers have also been observed previously, but using fiber tractography this study was in able to get a better look at the actual connections between neurons and how they have moved.

Initially, researchers thought they had identified changes in the corpus callosum, the central highway connecting both hemispheres of the brain, but on closer inspection they noticed an expansion of the brain's ventricles, a network communicating with fluid-filled chambers located next to the corpus callosum.

“The structural changes we initially found in the corpus callosum are actually caused by the dilation of the ventricles which induce anatomical displacements of the adjacent neural tissue, ”said neuroscientist Floris Wuyts, of the University of Antwerp in Belgium.

“ Where it was initially thought that there were real structural changes in the brain, we only observe changes in shape. This puts the results in a different perspective. ”

Changes in brain wiring are not unusual, of course: this plasticity allows us to learn new skills, create new memories and much more. It is currently unclear exactly what the implications of this space-related rewiring might be. What is certain is that our bodies try to adapt to the harsh environment of space. Previous studies have shown signs of an increased risk of the disease and potential ways the brain could be damaged. It also appears that spending time in space affects men and women differently. These are the first steps in studying this particular brain adaptation using this particular scanning technique, but the more we know about human bodies and gravity zero, the better we will be able to prepare to travel to other worlds.

“These results give us further pieces of the whole puzzle,” said Wuyts. "Since this research is so groundbreaking, we still don't know what the whole puzzle will look like. These findings contribute to our general understanding of what is happening in the brain of space travelers ".

" It is essential to maintain this line of research, looking for brain changes induced by space flight from different perspectives and using different techniques " .

Powered by Blogger.