Spending long time in space alters connectivity of brain, study says

It has long been known that if we spend time in space it has effects on our body and now a recent study suggests that the human mind could also get affected. The study, which was conducted by a research team of Laboratory for Cognitive Research at Russia’s National Research University Higher School of Economics, examined long-duration space flight affects connectivity in the brain.

The researchers had used the functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to observe the brains of 11 astronauts both before as well as after they took a space flight and then compared them to those who did not visit space. According to the findings, the brains of the astronauts had shown adaptation to gravity less environment.

The brains of the astronaut were not receiving the usual information from the body which is responsible for the balance due to the zero-gravity environment. According to the researchers, their brains develop an “auxiliary system of somatosensory control” and rely more on visual and tactile information instead of the vestibular input, the Sci-News reported.

“Under Earth’s gravity, vestibular nuclei are responsible for processing signals coming from the vestibular system,” the report said quoting the research team. “But in space, the brain may downweight the activity of these structures to avoid conflicting information about the environment,” it said.

Apart from this, there were also other differences in the brain. Inside our brain, there is an area called insular lobe that is linked to various functions like motor control and emotions like empathy. Among the astronauts, there was an increased connectivity between the left and right insulae as well as between the part of the right posterior supramarginal gyrus within the temporoparietal junction region and the rest of the brain. The findings of the research were published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

“Insular lobes, among other things, are responsible for the integration of signals coming from different sensor systems,” the report quoted Ekaterina Pechenkova the lead author of the research. This increased connectivity was particularly more noticeable among astronauts who had more difficulties adapting to the space environment and who experienced issues like vertigo or problems assessing the position of their bodies.

The researchers believe that this kind of information will help in better understanding as to why it takes different lengths of time for different people to adapt to the conditions of space flight and it will also help in developing more effective individual training programs for the space travelers.