Previous studies of cognitive, mental and/or motor processes during short-, medium- and long-term weightlessness have only been descriptive in nature, and focused on psychological aspects. Until now, objective observation of neurophysiological parameters has not been carried out - undoubtedly because the technical and methodological means have not been available -, investigations into the neurophysiological effects of weightlessness are in their infancy (Schneider et al. 2008). While imaging techniques such as positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) would be hardly applicable in space, the non-invasive near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) technique represents a method of mapping hemodynamic processes in the brain in real time that is both relatively inexpensive and that can be employed even under extreme conditions. The combination with electroencephalography (EEG) opens up the possibility of following the electrocortical processes under changing gravity conditions with a finer temporal resolution as well as with deeper localization, for instance with electrotomography (LORETA). Previous studies showed an increase of beta frequency activity under normal gravity conditions and a decrease under weightlessness conditions during a parabolic flight (Schneider et al. 2008a+b). Tilt studies revealed different changes in brain function, which let suggest, that changes in parabolic flight might reflect emotional processes rather than hemodynamic changes. However, it is still unclear whether these are effects of changed gravity or hemodynamic changes within the brain. Combining EEG/LORETA and NIRS should for the first time make it possible to map the effect of weightlessness and reduced gravity on both hemodynamic and electrophysiological processes in the brain. Initially, this is to be done as part of a feasibility study during a parabolic flight. Afterwards, it is also planned to use both techniques during medium- and long-term space flight. It can be assumed that the long-term redistribution of the blood volume and the associated increase in the supply of oxygen to the brain will lead to changes in the central nervous system that are also responsible for anaemic processes, and which can in turn reduce performance (De Santo et al. 2005), which means that they could be crucial for the success and safety of a mission (Genik et al. 2005, Ellis 2000). Depending on these results, it will be necessary to develop and employ extensive countermeasures. Initial results for the MARS500 study suggest that, in addition to their significance in the context of the cardiovascular and locomotor systems, sport and physical activity can play a part in improving neurocognitive parameters. Before this can be fully established, however, it seems necessary to learn more about the influence of changing gravity conditions on neurophysiological processes and associated neurocognitive impairment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Chemical Engineering(all)
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Immunology and Microbiology(all)