Space flight expands the mind, but compresses the brain

Space flight expands the mind, but compresses the brain

Flying into space allows you to expand horizons and get rid of boundaries, but it also changes your brain. A new study focused on the study of the brain of 10 astronauts before and after the flight into space. At the same time recorded extensive changes in the white and gray matter of the brain.

What these changes mean for the astronauts themselves remains an open question. The fact is that it is unclear whether changes in the gray and white matter affect the knowledge and perception of the world. We also noticed that the circulation of cerebrospinal fluid (a transparent substance between the brain and the spinal cord) remained unchanged after the space flight.

Before and after

In order to follow the changes in the brain, the researchers examined an astronaut MRI scan obtained before the flight, immediately after returning (no more than 9 days) and 7 months later. All 10 astronauts participated in the first two scans, and seven - in the final. The participants are men with an average age of 44 who were sent to the ISS. On average, they spent 189 days (6 months) in space. The researchers focused on three variables: the volume of gray and white matter and the volume of cerebrospinal fluid. Gray matter (the outer surface of the brain) contains cells of neutrons and other supporting cells, and white - long branches connecting neurons. The analysis demonstrated a widespread decrease in the volume of gray matter upon return to Earth. But the subsequent observation showed that the majority recovered to the levels that were familiar to humans. That is, we do not observe lasting changes.

But with the white matter, everything is different - the volume decreased in one part of the brain. When the astronauts returned to the survey after 7 months, they noticed that the white matter decreased even more. Also after the mission, the volumes of cerebrospinal fluid changed. The first scan recorded an increase in some areas and a decrease in others. A later analysis showed a return to pre-flight levels in the center of the brain, but an increase in fluid between the brain and the skull.

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