Space flight constitutes several physiological changes in the human body. Crewmembers adapt fairly appropriately to these changes, depending on the site of action and the applied counter measures. Still, despite several decades of human space flight, counter measures are not entirely successful, since e.g. space motion sickness is still present among several crewmembers when arriving on the International Space Station (ISS) and upon return to earth, orthostatic intolerance often occurs as well as spatial disorientation. Some astronauts adapt easier to the relatively hostile environment of space than others, and second time fliers certainly experience less problems. The human central nervous system seems to be capable of adapting to microgravity, a process called ‘neuroplasticity.” Advanced MRI techniques (multi-shell diffusion MRI) will allow investigators to study brain microstructure and connectivity. Elucidating the changes in structural and functional brain wiring in microgravity will help to better understand common problems encountered in space flights such as space motion sickness and autonomic deconditioning. Thus, better insight in these processes will allow to define and develop more efficient counter measures. Finally, patients suffering from neurodegenerative disease on Earth may benefit from advancement of fundamental insight in the process of adaptation and neuroplasticity.
The overall objective of this research is to determine whether biomarkers of neuroplasticity in vestibular signal processing can be found using the model of microgravity. More specific, the following objectives are:
- To obtain knowledge on how astronauts adapt to microgravity at the level of the brain.
- To use the model of microgravity to gain insight in which specific regions of interest are involved in space motion sickness (SMS), spatial disorientation, vertigo, and convergence of otolith and semicircular canal signals.
- To use the obtained knowledge on this adaptation of the astronaut brain to microgravity as a starting point to optimize countermeasures against space motion sickness, spatial disorientation, vertigo and convergence of otolith and semicircular canal signals.
- To use this knowledge as a starting point in the treatment of specific groups of vertigo patients (e.g. visual vertigo syndrome, mal de debarquement, uncompensated peripheral lesions).
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At least one preflight MRI-scan is requested between L-180 and L-15, postflight a total of four MRI scans are requested at R+1, R+10, R+45 and R+180. Each BDC session is approximately 75 minutes in duration: the anatomical MRI scan is followed by a diffusion MRI scan, followed by a short break. Then the subject is requested to imagine playing tennis while the brain is scanned again, followed by a spatial imaginary scan, where the crewmember is asked to navigate through the house. Finally a resting state scan is done while the subject is instructed to close the eyes and think of nothing special.
This experiment is in progress.
Demertzi A1, Van Ombergen A, Tomilovskaya E, Jeurissen B, Pechenkova E, Di Perri C, Litvinova L, Amico E, Rumshiskaya A, Rukavishnikov I, Sijbers J, Sinitsyn V, Kozlovskaya IB, Sunaert S, Parizel PM, Van de Heyning PH, Laureys SS, and Wuyts FL. Cortical reorganization in an astronaut's brain after long-duration spaceflight. Brain Structural and Function.
2015; May 12. [