Permanently Rewire Your Brain in Space

As humans look toward the vast unknowns of space to better understand our galactic neighborhood and stake out potential habitats,

But when it comes to the brain, changes may be more permanent for space travelers, as found by one new peer-reviewed study published Friday in Frontiers of Neural Circuits.

These changes were particularly notable in a type of brain tissue called white matter, which acts as a sort of network cable connecting the brain’s computing centers (gray matter) together.

The study, led by physiologist Floris Wuyts of the University of Antwerp, scanned the brains of 12 male Russian cosmonauts using a 3D-modeling technique called fiber tractography.

 When combined with an MRI, this modeling can give researchers an inside look at the “sort of wiring scheme of the brain,” Wuyts said in a press release.

After spaceflight, Wuyts and his team identified tiny “microstructural” changes that occurred not only in the sensorimotor tracts of the brain but also in regions like the cerebellum, 

Changes were also seen in areas of the white matter connecting the communication bridge between our left and right brain hemispheres and areas involved in language processing and executive function.

Wuyts’ team thinks the space environment (and its microgravity conditions) causes fluid cavities in the brain to dilate, pushing adjacent neural tissue around.

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