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Life in orbit changes the brains of cosmonauts

The brains of cosmonauts residing on the International Space Station /ISS/ are changing so that they can adapt to conditions in space, Russian scientists cited by TASS found.
The agency referred to a study led by Elena Tomilovskaya, a leading research fellow at the Institute of Medico-Biological Problems at the Russian Academy of Sciences, BTA reported.

Since 2013 Roscosmos jointly with the European Space Agency has been conducting experiments on studying the brains of cosmonauts. From the received studies of 11 Russian cosmonauts it appears that during their stay on the ISS decreased the content of their gray matter in the brain, while increasing the volume of white matter and cerebrospinal fluid.

In studies carried out before the flight, on the ninth day of their stay on the ISS and after half a year in orbit, cosmonauts observed an increase in the volume of white matter in certain areas of the brain. “An increase in white matter was found in areas associated with control of movements, maintaining balance and perception of body position. This is required by the fact that the brain needs to adjust and develop new strategies in the cosmic conditions of weightlessness. Another motor control is needed, since in orbit the mechanics of movements are quite different and it resembles more of a swim”, explains Tomilovskaya.

There was also a decrease in gray matter in certain areas of the cosmonauts brain. But the process did not turn out to be neurodegenerative and irreversible. Between six and seven months after they return to Earth, the inhabitants of the ISS regained the original volume of their gray matter. This speaks of the fact that in cosmic conditions there is no accelerated degeneration of nerve cells. “It's more about compacting the gray matter due to the increased volume of cerebrovascular fluid,” Tomilovskaya notes.

Brain changes do not function on cosmonauts whose cognitive functions do not decrease in space conditions. In orbit, they can endure large cognitive loads when carrying out a variety of experiments, the study found.


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