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Spaceflight Induced Neuroplasticity Studied with Advanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging Methods (Brain_DTI)
Research Area:
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human

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:

  1. To obtain knowledge on how astronauts adapt to microgravity at the level of the brain.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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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. []

Motion sickness
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Vestibular function tests

Data Information
Data Availability
Archiving in progress. Data is not yet available for this experiment.

Space motion sickness
Spatial disorientation

Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
Expedition 46 12/11/2015 03/02/2016 82 days
Expedition 47 03/02/2016 06/18/2016 108 days
Expedition 50 10/28/2016 04/09/2017 164 days
Expedition 51 04/09/2017 06/02/2017 55 days
Expedition 56 06/03/2018 10/04/2018 123 days
Expedition 57 10/04/2018 12/20/2018 77 days
Expedition 60 06/24/2019 10/03/2019 101 days
Expedition 61 10/03/2019 02/06/2020 126 days

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Institutional Support
European Space Agency (ESA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source