What happens to the brain of an astronaut in weightlessness, scientists have found

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(ORDO NEWS) — A recent article published by scientists from the University of Antwerp and the University of Liege in the journal Frontiers in Physiology sheds light on how the brain determines where it is and where it is going.

The University of Antwerp is leading this BRAIN-DTI science project through the European Space Agency (ESA).

The researchers took magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from 14 astronauts’ brains before and several times after their flight into space (to the International Space Station).

Using MRI, they collected data on the brains of 14 astronauts at rest, allowing experts to examine the default state of the brain and see if it changed after a long space flight.

Collecting this data at rest ensured that there was no activity that could affect the MRI results of each astronaut.

The brain adapts

Astronauts going into space are in a weightless environment where the forces of gravity no longer act on the brain. According to the study, the human brain adapts to the feeling of weightlessness.

Functional connectivity, a marker of how activity in some areas of the brain correlates with activity in others, changes in certain areas. Parts related to visual processing and balance were involved to a greater extent.

In other words, they were much more likely to be active at the same time. Interestingly, the effects persist in astronauts’ brains for more than eight months after returning to Earth.

“We found that after spaceflight, communication was disrupted in areas that support the integration of different types of information, instead of dealing with only one type each time, such as visual, auditory or motor information,” comment co-authors Steven Gillings. and Floris Wuyts.

“In addition, we found that some of these altered communication patterns persisted for up to 8 months after returning to Earth.

At the same time, some changes in the brain returned to the level of functioning of the regions before the space mission,” the researchers added.

While it’s too early to stop studying the effects of space travel on the brain, these are interesting findings that open the door to new avenues of research to understand whether longer stays in space are associated with more significant brain changes or not.

“Understanding the physiological and behavioral changes induced by weightlessness is key to planning for human space exploration.

Thus, mapping changes in brain function using neuroimaging techniques, as is being done in this work, is an important step in preparing a new generation of astronauts for longer missions,” says study co-author Dr. Raphael Liegeois.


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