Spaceflight causes changes in the astronauts’ brains

In a new study about astronauts, scientists found that their grey matter compress and expand when they are in space.

Rachael Siedler, professor of kinesiology and psychology, believes that these findings may help us fight brain diseases.

The study

was the first to look at changes in the brains of astronauts during spaceflight. It found that their grey matter compressed and expanded, and that it depends on the length of the time in space.

Siedler and her colleagues examined 26 astronauts, some shuttle crew members, while others were on the International Space Station. They all experienced changes in  different parts of their brain matter, and the longer they were in space, the more pronounced the changes were.

“We found large regions of gray matter volume decreases, which could be related to redistribution of cerebrospinal fluid in space,” She 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 scientists found that the parts of the brain that control leg movement increased, which can be explained by learning to how move in microgravity. These changes were far more pronounced in the astronauts at ISS.

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

Researchers observed something akin to practicing some type of skill 24/7.

“In space, it’s an extreme example of neuroplasticity in the brain because you’re in a microgravity environment 24 hours a day,” the author said.

While they have not found exactly why this happens, these finding can help curing health conditions like hydrocephalus. In this condition, the cerebrospinal fluid gets stuck in the brain ventricles and causes pressure.

Seidler said that these changes might make new connections between neurons, and she’ll be leading another long-term study to find out if these changes to the brain are permament.

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