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How Lengthy Space Missions Can Change Human Brain?

CC0 / / Brain
Brain - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.02.2022
The researchers want to understand how spaceflight affects human bodies in order to further "the exploration of the final frontier."
A new study conducted by an international team of researchers under the auspices of a collaboration between the European Space Agency and Roscosmos has revealed that long-term spaceflights lead to changes in the brain structure of cosmonauts involved.
During their research, the team examined diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) data collected from 12 cosmonauts who spent an average of six months onboard the International Space Station (ISS), with the scans being conducted before and after the flight.
Using a brain imaging technique known as fibre tractography, the team "found significant microstructural changes in several large white matter tracts, such as the corpus callosum, arcuate fasciculus, corticospinal, corticostriatal, and cerebellar tracts," according to the study results published in the Frontiers in Neural Circuits journal.
As Neuroscience News explains, white matter "refers to the parts of the brain that are responsible for communication between gray matter and the body and between various gray matter regions," with grey matter essentially handling the information processing and white matter being "the channel of communication of the brain."
"We found changes in the neural connections between several motor areas of the brain," said Andrei Doroshin of Drexel University, the lead author of the study. "Motor areas are brain centers where commands for movements are initiated. In weightlessness, an astronaut needs to adapt his or her movement strategies drastically, compared to Earth. Our study shows that their brain is rewired, so to speak."
The team also confirmed that these changes were visible on scans taken seven months after the spaceflight.
"From previous studies, we know that these motor areas show signs of adaptation after spaceflight. Now, we have a first indication that it is also reflected at the level of connections between those regions," stated Dr. Floris Wuyts from the University of Antwerp who led the study.
The researchers further argued that their findings highlight the necessity of gaining an understanding of how spaceflight affects human bodies, "for the exploration of the final frontier."
"As missions to Mars are at a minimum of nine months of spaceflight, more long-term studies on the human brain will need to be conducted," they wrote.
The researchers noted that while countermeasures for "muscle and bone loss" do exist, "if future research provides evidence that countermeasures are necessary for the brain, then we must begin to answer this challenging question."
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