A study funded by NASA made interesting discoveries on what happened with the brain of the astronauts who traveled to space. It appears that space travel can make irreversible changes on the shape of the brain.
The study looked at the brains of astronauts who have been to space and analyzed the impact spaceflight had on them. They found noticeable changes on their gray matter.
Structural MRIs were performed on 12 crew members who spent a few weeks in the space shuttle, and on 14 ISS astronauts who have been on the space station for six months. The MRIs were performed both before and after going into space. They discovered that the mass of their gray matters fluctuated. The extent to which the changes took place depended on the period they spent into space.
The lead author of the study, Rachael Seidler, explained that they found large regions where the volume of gray matter decreased. This may be a result of how cerebrospinal fluid is redistributed into space. The lack of gravity may have made the fluids go up in the body, causing what we casually know as puffy face. This phenomenon is what makes the brain shift position and compress.
Gray matter is responsible with several processes, such as memory formation, sensory perception, emotions, and making of decisions. The researchers found that the gray matter of the astronauts was increased in the area responsible with leg movement. These changes were caused by the fact that the astronauts learned how to move in space.
The decrease in other areas of the gray matter are due to the redistribution of the cerebrospinal fluid. However, the study showed that no loss or gain in brain cells occurred. Also, the researchers do not know what effects these changes may have or if or how the astronauts can compensate for them.
These findings can be applied in medicine and used to find possible treatments for patients with diseases that affect the function of the brain. There is quite a long way until then, since the scientists need more extensive studies of the neural changes that occur in the brain during space travel and the impact they may have on the human behavior.
Image Source: Flickr