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Space Flight Changes Brain Structure


You probably won't be flying into outer space any time soon, but you may still be interested in what would happen to your brain if you did.

This image is from a recent paper titled Brain Structure Plasticity with Spaceflight, and it shows changes in the amount of grey matter making up astronauts' brains after spending time in space. Blue is a decrease, and yellow—there's a bit if you look closely—is an increase.

The decreases may be due to the lack of gravity changing the brain's position in the head. But the increases are even more interesting—those parts of the brain control a certain part of the body. Can you guess which body parts would require more brain power when floating in space?

The tiny yellow spots corresponds to the area that controls what the authors call the "lower limbs," but I usually call "legs."

That's right, when there's no gravity, and legs are no longer responsible for keeping you upright and moving you around, their representation in the brain is modified.

It's yet another reminder that the brain isn't just an unchanging machine. Its very shape adapts depending on what you do with it, whether it's practicing cognitive tasks or launching yourself off the planet. That's why it's so important to monitor how your cognition changes over time.

This post was written by Mike Battista, a staff scientist at Cambridge Brain Sciences.