U of M study indicates brain shape changes in space flight

Feb 2, 2017

A new study at the University of Michigan has used MRI technology to show how astronauts' brains compress and expand during space flight. Findings indicate that during flight, the volume of astronauts' gray matter increased or decreased. The extent of change depended on the length of time spent in space.

U-M  kinesiology and psychology professor Rachel Seidler says the findings could have applications for treating other health conditions that affect brain function

Twelve space shuttle astronauts who spent 2 weeks in space and fourteen crew members who spent 6 months on the International Space Station were monitored, according to Seidler. All experienced changes in brain shape and volume, with greater variations occurring in astronauts who endured longer space trips.

Seidler indicated that the redistribution of cerebrospinal fluid in space could have led to "large regions of gray matter volume decreases."

Though U of M scientists think they haven't identified the precise nature of the brain changes yet, their findings may lead to applications in other practical areas. Benefits may be found for people on long-term 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.

The research is supported by a grant from NASA.