The Human Brain Rewires After Long-Duration Space Flights
Scientists continue to explore space, and it is essential to understand how it permanently affects the human brain. A new study focuses on how long-lasting space missions affect the brain.
The human brain regulates the body’s function controls thinking, memory, emotions, and interactions. The white and the gray matter of the brain have different tasks. The former sends nerve signals up and down the spinal cord and is responsible for motor and sensory functions—the latter controls sensory and muscular activity. However, the structure of the white matter changes over the years.
The research team of this study aims to understand how long-term space missions change the microstructures of the brain. The findings suggest that such space travels can cause alterations in the brains of space travelers. The brain’s function is also affected by new surroundings and events.
The individuals who took part in the study were astronauts who had a prolonged stay at the International Space Station. The research team examined their brains using diffusion MRI. In addition, they observed alterations in the white matter’s microstructure with the help of a specific technique named tractography. The researchers ran scans of twelve male astronauts before they went on a space mission. Upon their return, the research team ran brain scans one more time. Also, the study involved a control group, and all of the participants had undergone the same scans.
The results showed alterations in the brain areas’ microstructure linked to sensorimotor tracts. Some alterations were temporary. Nevertheless, many alterations turned out to be long-lasting, suggesting that the microstructure changes may become part of the standard brain structure. No vital changes were noted in the participants that were part of the control group.
In general, the researchers believe that neuroplasticity may cause some alterations since the brain adapts based on new experiences. Moreover, they speculate that anatomical shifts may be responsible for certain alterations. However, the study included a small number of astronauts, and future studies should closer investigate these alterations.
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