Monday, 19 August, 2019

How Deep Space Travel Could Affect The Brain

Acharya et al uncovered striking neurobehavioral and electrophysiological defects in rodents subjected to continuous low dose rate neutron exposures. Image credit NASA How deep space travel could affect the brain
Sandra Phillips | 08 August, 2019, 02:11

Chronic (6 month) low dose (18 cGy) and dose rate (192 mGy/day) exposures ... result in diminished hippocampal neuronal excitability and disrupted hippocampal and cortical long-term potentiation.

Previous studies looking at the effect of radiation on the brain have used shorter rates of exposure but higher doses of radiation, which the researchers of the new study say inaccurately reflects deep space conditions.

Under low-dose rate neutron irradiation, which simulates the actual experience in deep space, test subjects "had trouble with learning, adapting and storing memories", such as showing less interest in new toys than their unirradiated counterparts.

eNeuro, the Society for Neuroscience's open-access journal launched in 2014, publishes rigorous neuroscience research with double-blind peer review that masks the identity of both the authors and reviewers, minimizing the potential for implicit biases. After exposure, the mice experienced impaired cellular signaling in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex.

For the experiment, the group exposed lab rodents to months of low-intensity radiation.

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As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) prepares for a manned mission to Mars, scientists are concerned about the adverse effects of radiation exposure on the human brain.

To investigate how deep space travel could affect the nervous system, Charles Limoli and colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, Stanford University, Colorado State University and the Eastern Virginia School of Medicine exposed mice to chronic, low dose radiation for six months.

The team also observed increased anxiety behaviors, indicating that the radiation also impacted the amygdala.

As a result, the researchers predict one-in-five astronauts on deep space missions will suffer anxiety. Ensuring a spacecraft has the protective capabilities to keep the crew healthy (and happy) will be a major challenge, and radiation exposure will most definitely have to be accounted for.

Space travel could harm a person's cognitive function. And all of them may struggle when it comes to making decisions, which would be crucial on a mission to Mars where communications with the Earth are delayed by up to 20 minutes. After US astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days in space aboard the Mir space station, extensive testing showed his cognitive abilities had decreased.

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