Long Stays in Space Rewire our Brains

I’m Jordan Soto with Space Channel News with our continuing coverage of health in space.

Space changes you, and we’re not just talking about the Overview Effect.

Yes, the brain evolves over time allowing us the ability to learn new skills, make new memories, and a myriad of other things, but when our brains rewire in space it looks different than when it does so here on Earth.

Though space travelers’ brains have been observed before, no one’s used fiber tractography… until now. 
The European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos, led by Dr. Floris Wuyts of the University of Antwerp, have been studying human brain neuron tracts before, during, and after space travel utilizing fiber tractography to take a better look at the actual connections between neurons and how they shifted.
The research team studied twelve cosmonauts, who averaged six months aboard the ISS, using an MRI scanner pre-flight, ten days after flight, and seven months after flight. 

They concluded that: “Spaceflight has the potential to profoundly alter both the function and shape of the adult brain” showcasing that the corpus callosum – a large part of the brain made of more than 200 million nerve fibers that connect the two brain hemispheres – expands because of spaceflight, noting that there’s an upward shift of the brain within the skull and that the changes appear to be specific to long-duration mission astronauts.

The data indicated changes specifically in the neural tracts related to sensory and motor functions. “In weightlessness, an astronaut needs to adapt his or her movement strategies drastically compared to Earth. Our study shows that their brain is rewired, so to speak,”  said Dr. Andrei Doroshin.
There were also indicated structural changes in the brain after spaceflight at the level of deep-brain white matter tracts. Put simply, white matter is the channel of communication of the brain while gray matter is where information processing is done.

The study illustrates a need for a deeper understanding of how spaceflight affects our bodies, specifically via long-term research on the effects on the human brain.

The question is: is the human desire to increase our exploration of space exacerbating the need to understand the effects of spaceflight on the human brain?

Previous space traveler studies have shown signs of an increased risk of disease, higher rates of mutated DNA, as well as DNA replication inaccuracy, and that spending time in space affects men and women differently. Current countermeasures exist for muscle and bone loss, such as exercising for a minimum of two hours a day, but what countermeasures are necessary for the brain?

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