Brains Scans of Cosmonauts

Ever wondered how your organs react to completely new surroundings and what if you go to space, what would happen? So the latest scans of cosmonaut’s brains have thrown some light on the first clear evidence of how the organ adapts to the unknown, weird, and often sickness-inducing challenge of moving around in space.

An illustration of brain grey matter tissue after time spent in space.
An illustration of brain grey matter tissue after time spent in space.

11 cosmonaut’s scans were considered for analysis, each spending six months in orbit, found that in three brain regions there is an increase in white and grey matter, these regions are intimately involved in physical movement.

Neuroplasticity of Brain

The cells that govern movement or motor activity, known as neural tissue adjusts and reconfigures itself to match the fresh demands of life in orbit and scans reveal that the changes in white and grey matter reflect “neuroplasticity” of the brain.

Neuroplasticity Working

Steven Jillings, a neuroscientist at the University of Antwerp in Belgium says that with the techniques they used, they could see that there are microstructural changes that involve motor processing, whereas changes in three major areas of the brain.

Weightlessness Experienced

One of the most difficult parts for the human body to face is weightlessness as per the visitors to the International Space Station. Though in the space the occupants are firmly in the grip of gravity still they are constantly falling around the planet. So to the rapidly changing extreme environment, the body must recalibrate its senses to cope with it.

Cosmonauts lasting on average 171 days during the mission were examined and images of the cosmonauts’ brains were taken before and after missions. Thereafter seven months another scan was done. These scans confirmed that the cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the brain redistributes itself in when the body is in orbit. This pushes the brain to the top of the skull. The fluid-filled cavities called ventricles, which may be linked to a loss of sharpness in the cosmonauts’ vision also expands. The condition related to the sharpness of cosmonauts’ vision is called spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome or Sans.

Three Region of Brains shows Changes

Along with moving of brain to the top of the skull, the scans also brought attention to microstructural changes in three brain regions namely the primary motor cortex, the cerebellum, the basal ganglia. The role of these regions is that the basal ganglia are an area that helps to initiate movements, the primary motor cortex sends movement signals to muscles, the cerebellum plays a role in fine movements. Though the scans were also taken after seven months, the changes in the brain still existed in the cosmonauts who had returned to Earth.

Floris Wuyts, a senior author on the study published in Science Advances says that the results that can be seen make so much sense as it’s a sign of the complex situation cosmonauts find themselves in and learn how to adapt to this very extreme environment. One of the major problems of space is lack of gravity, so to adapt to completely different situations one needs to learn that how should they move.

Helpful Study for Future Space Exploration

There is a need to learn how to move around the orbiting outpost for the first-time flyers to the International Space Station and must also recalibrate their sensory systems. On Earth, our body and our brain had already adapted to our place in the world by combining information from our vestibular system with what we see and feel with our other senses. But the one traveling to space for the first time has to forget notions of up and down and learn afresh how objects move. Still, the adaptions of the brain are the result of experience due to dizziness and sickness.

Long space flights can increase the volume of astronauts' brains

To understand the impact of spaceflight on the human brain and how to mitigate any unpleasant effects, this brain scans study will help to feed a project run by the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, and the European Space Agency. As space agencies would be happy to see the new changes for its future cosmonauts to adapt easily but also for tourists who want to spend a while in space.

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