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Travelling To Space May Alter Brain, Says Study

Upon return to Earth, this process is then gradually reversed, which then results in a relative reduction of white matter volume

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Keplar, NASA
According to co-author Andrew Casey, it was previously believed that the first stars that formed in the universe could not possibly still exist today. VOA

Spending long periods in space not only leads to muscle atrophy and reductions in bone density, it also has lasting effects on the brain, suggests a study.

The study, led by a team of neuroscientists from the University of Antwerp in Belgium and Ludwig-Maximilians-University (LMU) of Munich, showed that differential changes in the three main tissue volumes of the brain remain detectable for at least half a year after the end of their last mission.

“Our results point to prolonged changes in the pattern of cerebrospinal fluid circulation over a period of at least seven months following the return to Earth,” said professor Peter zu Eulenburg from the LMU.

“However, whether or not the extensive alterations shown in the grey and the white matter lead to any changes in cognition remains unclear at present,” he added.

The study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, was carried out on ten cosmonauts, each of whom had spent an average of 189 days on board the International Space Station (ISS).

The magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) scans performed in the days after the return to Earth revealed that the volume of the grey matter was reduced compared to before launch.

ISS Launched First satellite For Cleaning Space Junk
Space travel can alter brain: Study, Pixabay

Seven months later, this effect was partly reversed, but nevertheless still detectable.

In contrast, the volume of the cerebrospinal fluid, which fills the inner and outer cavities of the brain, increased within the cortex during long-term exposure to microgravity.

Further, the white matter tissue volume (those parts of the brain that are primarily made up of nerve fibres) appeared to be unchanged upon investigation immediately after landing.

But, the subsequent examination six months later showed a widespread reduction in volume relative to both earlier measurements.

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In this case, the team postulated that over the course of a longer stint in space, the volume of the white matter may slowly be replaced by an influx of cerebrospinal fluid.

Upon return to Earth, this process is then gradually reversed, which then results in a relative reduction of white matter volume.

According to the researchers, further studies using a wider range of diagnostic methods are deemed essential, to minimise the risks associated with long-term missions and to characterise any clinical significance of the findings. (IANS)

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Researchers Identify Key Networks In Brain That Play Role In Suicide

Brain networks that play key role in suicide risk identified

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Brain network
Scientists have identified the brain networks that play a role in suicide. Lifetime Stock

Researchers have identified key networks within the brain which they say interact to increase the risk that an individual will think about – or attempt – suicide.

Combining the results from all of the brain imaging studies available, the researchers looked for evidence of structural, functional and molecular alterations in the brain that could increase the risk of suicide.

They identified two brain networks – and the connections between them – that appear to play an important role.

The first of these networks involves areas towards the front of the brain known as the medial and lateral ventral prefrontal cortex and their connections to other brain regions involved in emotion.

Alterations in this network may lead to excessive negative thoughts and difficulties regulating emotions, stimulating thoughts of suicide, according to the study published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

The second network involves regions known as the dorsal prefrontal cortex and inferior frontal gyrus system.

Brain studies
The researchers looked for evidence of structural, functional and molecular alterations in the brain that could increase the risk of suicide. Lifetime Stock

Alterations in this network may influence a suicide attempt, in part, due to its role in decision making, generating alternative solutions to problems and controlling behaviour, said the study.

The researchers suggest that if both networks are altered in terms of their structure, function or biochemistry, this might lead to situations where an individual thinks negatively about the future and is unable to control their thoughts, which might lead to situations where an individual is at higher risk of suicide.

“There are very vulnerable groups who are clearly not being served by research for a number of reasons, including the need to prioritise treatment, and reduce stigma,” said Anne-Laura van Harmelen, co-first author from the University of Cambridge.

“We urgently need to study these groups and find ways to help and support them,” van Harmelen said.

For the study, the international team of researchers carried out a review of two decades’ worth of scientific literature relating to brain imaging studies of suicidal thoughts and behaviour.

In total, they looked at 131 studies, which covered more than 12,000 individuals, looking at alterations in brain structure and function that might increase an individual’s suicide risk.

Brain suicide
Alterations in the brain network may influence a suicide attempt. Lifetime Stock

The researchers said that their review of existing literature revealed how little research has been done into one of the world’s major killers, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.

The facts in relation to suicide are stark: 800,000 people commit suicide every year, the equivalent of one every 40 seconds.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death globally among 15-29 year olds.

More adolescents commit suicide than dying from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza and chronic lung disease combined.

As many as one in three adolescents think about ending their lives and one in three of these will attempt suicide.

“Imagine having a disease that we knew killed almost a million people a year, a quarter of them before the age of thirty, and yet we knew nothing about why some individuals are more vulnerable to this disease,” van Harmelen said.

Also Read- Long-Term Treatment with Opioids may Increase PTSD Risk: Study

“This is where we are with suicide. We know very little about what’s happening in the brain, why there are sex differences, and what makes young people especially vulnerable to suicide.” (IANS)