News | Neuro Imaging | February 06, 2017

Astronauts' Brains Change Shape During Spaceflight

MRI exams reveal structural changes in gray matter based on length of time spent in space

astronaut brain changes, spaceflight, MRI, Nature Microgravity

Image courtesy of NASA

February 6, 2017 — Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exams before and after space missions reveal that astronauts' brains compress and expand during spaceflight, according to a University of Michigan study.

The findings could have applications for treating other health conditions that affect brain function, said principal investigator Rachael Seidler, U-M professor of kinesiology and psychology.

The study, believed to be the first to examine structural changes that take place in astronauts' brains during spaceflight, found that the volume of gray matter increased or decreased, and the extent of the alteration depended on the length of time spent in space.

Seidler and colleagues examined structural MRIs in 12 astronauts who spent two weeks as shuttle crew members, and 14 who spent six months on the International Space Station. All experienced increases and decreases in gray matter in different parts of the brain, with more pronounced changes the longer the astronauts spent in space.

"We found large regions of gray matter volume decreases, which could be related to redistribution of cerebrospinal fluid in space," Seidler said. "Gravity is not available to pull fluids down in the body, resulting in so-called puffy face in space. This may result in a shift of brain position or compression."

The researchers also found increases in gray matter volume in regions that control leg movement and process sensory information from legs, which may reflect changes related to the brain learning how to move in microgravity. These changes were greater in space station astronauts because their brains were learning and adapting 24/7.

"It's interesting because even if you love something you won't practice more than an hour a day," Seidler said.

But the brain changes researchers observed were equivalent to someone practicing a new skill round-the-clock.

"In space, it's an extreme example of neuroplasticity in the brain because you're in a microgravity environment 24 hours a day," Seidler said.

Though they have not pinpointed the exact nature of the changes yet, the findings may lead to new ways of thinking about certain health conditions — for example, people on long-duration bed rest or people who have normal pressure hydrocephalus, a condition in which cerebrospinal spinal fluid accumulates in ventricles in the brain and causes pressure.

Seidler said the brain changes could reflect new connections between neurons, and she's leading another long-term study that will help determine the repercussions on cognition and physical performance, as well as how long the brain changes last. For example, even after balance returns, the brain might still recruit different pathways to compensate for the structural brain changes caused by spaceflight.

"The behavior may return to normal, but the way the brain controls the behavior may change," she said.

These results largely parallel findings from a long-term bed rest study that Seidler is leading, in which volunteers spent up to three months in downward tilted position, and brains shifted up.

The research is supported by a grant from NASA.

The study, "Brain structural plasticity with spaceflight," appeared in the journal Nature Microgravity.

For more information: www.nature.com/npjmgrav

References

Kopplemans, V., Bloomberg, J.J., Mulavara, A.P., Seidler, R.D. "Brain structural plasticity with spaceflight," Nature Microgravity. Published online Dec. 19, 2016. doi:10.1038/s41526-016-0001-9

Related Content

Turkish Hospital Begins MR-Guided Radiation Therapy With Viewray MRIdian Linac
News | Image Guided Radiation Therapy (IGRT) | September 21, 2018
ViewRay Inc. announced that Acibadem Maslak Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey has begun treating patients with ViewRay's...
Machine Learning IDs Markers to Help Predict Alzheimer's

Neurologists use structural and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to identify changes in brain tissue (both gray and white matter) that are characteristic of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia. The MRI images are analyzed using morphometry and tractography techniques, which detect changes in the shape and dimensions of the brain and in the tissue microstructure, respectively. In this example, the images show the normal brain of an elderly patient. Image courtesy of Jiook Cha.

News | Neuro Imaging | September 20, 2018
New research has shown a combination of two different modes of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer-based...
Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T MR. This innovation is the latest advance in the Ingenia MRI portfolio, which comprises fully-digital MRI systems, healthcare informatics and a range of maintenance and life cycle services for integrated solutions that empower a faster, smarter, and simpler path to enabling a confident diagnosis
News | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 14, 2018
Philips, a global leader in health technology, launched the Ingenia Ambition X 1.5T MR.
Veye Chest version 2
News | Lung Cancer | September 11, 2018
Aidence, an Amsterdam-based medical AI company, announced that Veye Chest version 2, a class IIa medical device, has
Sponsored Content | Case Study | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 07, 2018 | By Sabine Sartoretti, M.D.
As soon as the Compressed SENSE technology became available to the MRI team at Kantonsspital Winterthur (Switzerland),...

Image courtesy of Philips Healthcare

Feature | Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) | September 06, 2018 | By Melinda Taschetta-Millane
According to the Prescient & Strategic Intelligence report, “Global Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Market Size,...
PET Imaging Agent Predicts Brain Tau Pathology, Alzheimer's Diagnosis
News | PET Imaging | September 05, 2018
Eli Lilly and Co. and Avid Radiopharmaceuticals Inc. announced a Phase 3 study of positron emission tomography (PET)...
Check-Cap Announces Interim Results of European Study of C-Scan System Version 3
News | Colonoscopy Systems | September 04, 2018
Check-Cap Ltd. announced the interim results for its post-CE approval study of the C-Scan system Version 3, an...
Brain Iron Levels May Predict Multiple Sclerosis Disabilities
News | Neuro Imaging | August 31, 2018
A new, highly accurate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique can monitor iron levels in the brains of multiple...
Study Finds Multiple Sclerosis Drug Slows Brain Shrinkage

An NIH-funded clinical trial suggested that the anti-inflammatory drug ibudilast may slow brain shrinkage caused by progressive MS. Image courtesy of Robert J. Fox, M.D., Cleveland Clinic.

News | Neuro Imaging | August 30, 2018
August 30, 2018 — Results from a clinical...