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Effects of Isolation and Confinement on Hippocampal Volume and Visuo-Spatial Memory (Vol_Spatial_Memory)
Principal Investigator
Research Area:
Behavior and performance
Species Studied
Scientific Name: Homo sapiens Species: Human

While a large body of research has documented the effects of microgravity on the cardiovascular system, body fluids, skeletal muscle, and bone metabolism, there is a renewed interest in the understanding how long-term space flight affects cognitive functioning and in particular neuroplasticity. In spite of increasing knowledge on behavioral adaptations during space flight, these studies remain controversial and are not necessarily reliable predictors of changes in brain structure and function. Data from the investigators’ ground-based analog experiments (i.e. bed rest and isolation studies in Antarctica) indicate that the hippocampus will be particularly vulnerable to detrimental effects associated with the various stressors during long-duration space flight. The hippocampus is part of the limbic system and plays important roles in learning and memory formation, and specifically spatial learning and episodic memory. Any malfunction and/or structural changes of the hippocampus could have substantial consequences on learning and memory consolidation as well as general cognitive performance.

In spite of ongoing research projects employing state-of-the-art imaging techniques, none of these experiments focused on the hippocampus. The primary objective of this project was to identify the changes in hippocampal subfield volume. Investigators hypothesize that hippocampal subfield volume will be reduced after 30 days of isolation and confinement in NASA’s Human Exploration Research Analog (HERA) facility. Moreover, investigators expect that these changes correlate with decrements in visuo-spatial navigation and memory. They also expect that these changes can be explained by changes in important neurotrophic key factors. This study aimed to assess the impact of human isolation and confinement on:

  1. The neuroplasticity of the brain.
  2. Cognitive performance and mood.
  3. Biomarkers of neuroplasticity.
  4. The proliferation and differentiation into hippocampal neurons and their underlying gene expression patterns of an immortalized multipotent, human hippocampal progenitor cell line.

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Gene expression
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Data Information
Data Availability
Archive is complete. Data sets are not publicly available but can be requested.
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Accuracy score
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor, (BDNF)
Cannabinoid receptor CB1
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Mission/Study Information
Mission Launch/Start Date Landing/End Date Duration
HERA Campaign 3 01/26/2016 10/19/2016 Four 30-day missions

Additional Information
Managing NASA Center
Johnson Space Center (JSC)
Responsible NASA Representative
Johnson Space Center LSDA Office
Project Manager: Jessica Keune
Institutional Support
European Space Agency (ESA)
Proposal Date
Proposal Source