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Space travel changes the brains of astronauts

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Who hasn’t dreamed of exploring space? If these trips obviously do not leave unscathed, they are also marked on the body of the astronauts. For the first time, a study (source 1) looked at the structural connectivity changes that occur in the brain after long-duration spaceflight. The findings were published in Frontiers in Neutral Circuits.

According to this study, significant microstructural changes occur in several white matter pathways. Specifically, it is the communication channel between brain and gray matter. To study brain structure and function after spaceflight, the researchers used a brain imaging technique called fiber tractography.

The neuroplasticity of the brain

As part of this study, the researchers recruited 12 astronauts who participated in long-duration missions, lasting an average of 172 days. “Fiber tractography gives a kind of wiring diagram of the brain. Our study is the first to use this specific method to detect changes in brain structure after spaceflight,” explained Dr. Floris Wuyts from the University of Antwerp. Through this research, scientists have found evidence of the concept of “scientific brain.” Specifically, the level of neuroplasticity that the brain must adapt to spaceflight.

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“We have found changes in neural connections between multiple motor areas of the brain,” said first author Andrei Doroshin, of Drexel University. He added, “Motor areas are brain centers where movement commands are initiated. In weightlessness, an astronaut must drastically adapt his movement strategies in relation to the Earth. Our study shows that their brains are rewired, so to speak.” A new piece in the researchers’ puzzle.

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