Neuro-behavioral markers benefit from an increased blood supply to the brain during microgravity

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In order to maintain and improve mission safety and mission success, in the recent decades several attempts have been made to evaluate cognitive processing in microgravity. Although results are quite inconsistent, those studies reporting a decrement in cognitive performance are barely able to distinguish between primary effects of weightlessness and secondary, stress related effects (e.g. caused by the confinement). In addition, currently available results are merely based on behavioural rather than neuro-cognitive data.
The current study aimed to display the effects of weightlessness on neurophysiological processing with respect to a mental arithmetic task (executive function).

During the 1G and 0G phases (eliminating a possible stress component) of a parabolic flight, two simple mental arithmetics were presented on the left and right side of a touchscreen. The larger one had to be identified by tapping on the screen as quickly as possible. The latency between the appearance of the numbers and the tapping was identified as reaction time. In addition the event related N200, which has been reported to monitor strategic cognitive control, was determined over the visual cortex by using an active EEG system.

During parabolic flight two groups have performed at different levels of difficulty. Whereas group 1 performed at the easiest level, group 2 performed with increasing levels of difficulty. Results for group 1 (easy) show no difference in reaction time between 0G and 1G. Obviously reaction time increased with increasing levels of difficulty in group 2 but interestingly reaction time was significantly slower during 1G conditions. This was mirrored by an increase in N200 latency as well as N200 amplitude during 1G conditions indicating a quicker neuronal processing under microgravity. No differences between groups could be identified.

This study is the first to show that executive function in microgravity might not necessarily be impaired. This might be due to the fact that the oxygen delivery to the brain is significantly increased during 0G (Schneider et al, Eur J Appl Physiol, 2013). Previous and future results need to be reinterpreted with reference to a possible stress component.

Original languageGerman
Title of host publicationESA Life in Space for Life on Earth Symposium
Publication date2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014
EventESA Life in Space for Life on Earth Conference - Waterloo, Canada
Duration: 16.06.201420.06.2014
Conference number: 13

ID: 223162

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