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Feb 03, 2017 07:33 AM EST

University Of Michigan Study Reveals How Spaceflight Alters Astronauts' Brains

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A study by researchers from the University of Michigan has found how spaceflight alters the brains of astronauts. The findings showed that different parts of the astronauts' brains compress and expand as they travel in space.

In the University of Michigan's official website, it was reported that the findings may be used to treat other health conditions that affect brain function. The principal investigator of the study is Rachael Seidler, a professor of kinesiology and psychology.

This is believed to be the first time that structural changes in astronauts' brains during spaceflight are being examined. It was found that the volume of gray matter increased or decreased. Moreover, the level of changes depended on how long the astronauts were in space.

Seidler and other researchers studied the structural MRIs of 12 astronauts who spent two weeks as shuttle crew members. They also studied the MRIs of 14 astronauts who spent six months on the International Space Station (ISS).

Every one of the astronauts experienced increases and decreases in gray matter in the different areas of their brains. The changes were clearer and more pronounced in the astronauts who stayed in space for a longer period of time.

The study was also published in Science Daily. It was found that there were large regions of gray matter volume decreases. This is believed to be related to redistribution of cerebrospinal fluid in space.

Seidler noted that the decrease is caused by gravity not being able to pull fluids down in the body. Thus, this resulted to a shift of brain position or compression.

Increases in gray matter volume in the areas that control leg movement and process sensory information from legs were also discovered by the researchers. These changes are said to be related to the brain learning how to move in microgravity.

According to Gizmodo, NASA also released details of its Twin Study, where it studied twin astronauts and how their bodies changed during their time in space. One of the results showed that the telomeres of one of the twins grew longer, which was unexpected since these usually shrink over time.

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