Spaceflight Effects on Neurocognitive Performance: Extent, Longevity, and Neural Bases (NeuroMapping) - 07.29.14

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Spaceflight Effects on Neurocognitive Performance: Extent, Longevity, and Neural Bases (NeuroMapping) studies whether long-duration spaceflight causes any changes to the brain, including brain structure and function, motor control, and multi-tasking; as well as measuring how long it takes for the brain and body to recover from those possible changes. Previous research and anecdotal evidence from crewmembers returning from a long-duration spaceflight suggests that movement control and cognition are affected in microgravity. The NeuroMapping investigation utilizes structural and functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (MRI and FMRI) to assess any changes to crewmembers after a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

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This content was provided by Rachael D. Seidler, Ph.D., and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.

Experiment Details

OpNom NeuroMapping

Principal Investigator(s)

  • Rachael D. Seidler, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor , MI, United States

  • Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
  • Patricia Reuter-Lorenz, Ph.D., University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, United States
  • Ajitkumar P. Mulavara, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, United States
  • Scott J. Wood, Ph.D., Azusa Pacific University, Azusa, CA, United States

  • Developer(s)
    Johnson Space Center, Human Research Program, Houston, TX, United States

    Sponsoring Space Agency
    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

    Sponsoring Organization
    Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD)

    Research Benefits
    Earth Benefits, Scientific Discovery, Space Exploration

    ISS Expedition Duration
    September 2014 - Ongoing

    Expeditions Assigned
    41/42,43/44,45/46

    Previous ISS Missions
    Information Pending

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    Experiment Description

    Research Overview

    • This study is needed to assess changes in elemental neurocognitive functions such as perception, motor control, memory, attention, and executive function following long duration spaceflight using both behavioral assessments and brain imaging technologies, such as functional MRI. Structural and functional MR brain imaging are used to identify the relationship between changes in crewmember neurocognitive function, neural structural alterations and its impact on indices of cognitive, sensory, and motor function in a neuroanatomically selective fashion during and following a six month International Space Station mission.
    • This interdisciplinary approach utilizes cutting edge neuroimaging techniques and a broad ranging battery of sensory, motor, and cognitive assessments that are conducted pre-flight, during flight, and post-flight to investigate neuroplastic and maladaptive brain changes in crewmembers following long duration spaceflight. Success in this endeavor would 1) result in identification of the underlying neural mechanisms and operational risks of spaceflight-induced changes in behavior, and 2) identify whether a return to normative behavioral function following re-adaptation to Earth’s gravitational environment is associated with a restitution of brain structure and function or instead is supported by substitution with compensatory brain processes.
    • The results of this project have relevance not only to understanding the effects of spaceflight on the human brain and behavior, but also for delineating the capacity of the brain to remodel in response to exposure to microgravity, and how long it may take to recover as a result after a long duration space flight. As such, the results areimportant for understanding the neural mechanisms of rehabilitation and adaptive behavioral change. This may have direct impacts on the designing of targeted cognitive and behavioral countermeasures for upcoming human spaceflight exploration missions in the future.
       

    Description

    During spaceflight, the control of movement is altered to account for the fundamental change in gravity. This can lead to motion disturbances and difficulty controlling motion following transitions in gravity levels (e.g., transition to Earth, lunar or Martian surfaces). Spaceflight has also been anecdotally reported to affect cognition. This investigation proposes to perform structural and functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (MRI and FMRI) to identify the relationship between changes in crewmember neurocognitive function, and neural structural alterations, following a six month International Space Station (ISS) mission. The interdisciplinary approach utilizes cutting-edge neuroimaging techniques and a broad ranging battery of sensory, motor, and cognitive assessments that are conducted pre-flight, during flight, and post-flight to investigate neuroplastic and maladaptive brain changes in crewmembers following long-duration spaceflight. Success in this endeavor may result in identification of the underlying neural mechanisms and operational risks of spaceflight-induced changes in behavior, and also identify whether a return to normative behavioral function following re-adaptation to Earth's gravitational environment is associated with a restitution of brain structure and function or instead is supported by substitution with compensatory brain processes.

    Each BDC session (pre- and post-flight) consists of non-invasive brain structural and functional imaging tests in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner (neuroimaging assessment), as well as several laboratory tests of sensory, motor, and cognitive function (behavioral assessment). The details of the tests are listed below.

    Pre- and Post-flight Behavioral Assessment Tests include:

    • Assessments of spatial transformation:

      • Card rotation: This is a timed pencil and paper test requiring participants to mentally rotate target shapes and indicate whether they are the same or different from a standard shape

      • Mental rotation: Subjects need to memorize and subsequently identify a match to a re-oriented 3D cube assemblage.

      • Rod and Frame test: Subjects align a rod to vertical within a tilted frame

       

    • Assessments of processing speed:

      • Digit-symbol substitution task: This is a timed pencil and paper test requiring participants to decode shapes into numbers using a presented key

       

    • Assessments of motor control:

      • Functional Mobility Test : Navigate obstacle course on a medium density foam surface.

      • Bimanual Motor Control: Place 25 keyed pegs into their corresponding slots using both hands while seated.

       

    • Assessments of vestibular function:

      • Vestibular Evoked Myogenic Potential (VEMP) test : A surface potential in response to otolith (auditory) stimulation is recorded from the muscle under the eyes (ocular VEMP) and from neck muscle while it is being contracted (colic VEMP).

      • Vestibular contribution to Postural Stability: Maintain balance on sway-referenced support surface with eyes closed. This test is performed with and without head movements.

    Pre-and Post-Flight Neuroimaging Assessments include:

    • Passive structural and functional scans (during which participants lay still and do not perform a task)

      • Structural MRI scan: High-resolution anatomical images covering the whole brain including the cerebellum

      • Resting state functional connectivity MRI: Strength of communications between “hubs” in the brain’s networks

      • Diffusion weighted imaging: Quantify large white matter pathways in the brain and calculate their structural integrity specifically the corticospinal tract connecting motor brain regions and the spinal cord, in addition to other pathways.

       

    • Active structural and functional scans (during which participants perform a task)

      • fMRI during auditory click-induced VEMP: Identify brain regions processing vestibular information which undergo plasticity as a function of microgravity exposure. Subjects listen to auditory clicks.

      • fMRI during manual sensorimotor adaptation task: Identify brain regions supporting visuomotor plasticity. Subjects move a cursor from center to target locations using a joystick under normal, or rotated, visual feedback.
         

      • fMRI during spatial working memory task: Identify brain regions engaged in spatial cognition. Subjects indicate correct spatial rotation of a triad target set using button clicks.
         

      • fMRI during dual tasking: Identify brain regions in dual task. Subjects press buttons matched to a psudo-random pattern of highlighted positions of stimulus boxes, while also monitoring for the occurrence of a target color.
         

      In-flight Behavioral Assessments include:

      • The Behavioral assessments are a subset of the pre / post flight tests and include: mental rotation, sensorimotor adaptation, and motor-cognitive dual tasking

        • Mental rotation task: Subjects need to memorize and subsequently identify a match to a re-oriented 3D cube assemblage.

        • Sensorimotor adaptation task: Subjects move a cursor from center to target locations using a joystick under normal or rotated visual feedback.

        • Dual tasking: Subjects press buttons matched to a pseudo-random pattern of highlighted positions of stimulus boxes while also monitoring for the occurrence of a target color.

       

    • The crew uses and operates:

      • ESA Control Pad

      • HRF PC

      • NeuroMapping Experiment Unique Software

      • Tethers, foot loops

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    Applications

    Space Applications

    Changes in brain structure and function may be related to reduced sensorimotor and cognitive abilities during spaceflight. Along with affecting performance in orbit, these changes may impact the long-term health of astronauts, especially if the brain changes substantially during a long-duration mission. Identifying which changes occur, and whether they remain after astronauts return to Earth, can help physicians develop effective countermeasures. The investigation addresses key questions posed by the Human Spaceflight Program, including whether structural changes in the brain can be predicted and mitigated, and which methods can effectively monitor cognitive performance during and after a mission.

    Earth Applications

    Brain plasticity, defined as the ability of the brain to adapt to new circumstances and physical changes, is a key research topic for neuroscientists. Results from the NeuroMapping investigation provides insight into the brain's ability to rewire and remodel in response to new stimuli. This may also provide additional insight into research on the neural mechanisms associated with behavioral and physiological changes, as well as brain rehabilitation.

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    Operations

    Operational Requirements

    • This experiment requires 13 subjects.  Additionally, data will be collected before, during and after the yearlong mission of crewmembers launching on 42S.
    • Pre-flight sessions consists of behavioral and neuroimaging tests and will occur at L-180 (+/- 60 days) and L-60 days. Post-flight sessions will occur four times at R+1-5, R+30, R+90, and R+180 days. The preference is to perform both Behavioral and Neuroimaging tests on the same day. However, if both tests cannot be accommodated on the same day, the Behavioral Assessment Tests will precede the Neuroimaging Tests. The Neuroimaging Tests may be performed up to, but no more than, 2 days following the Behavioral Assessment Testing for each session. There should be at least 20 days in between the L-180 and L-60 BDC sessions and the first post-flight BDC session needs to be completed by R+5 for both the Behavioral and Neuroimaging Assessment Tests.
    • In-flight tests will be performed on FD30, FD90, and FD150 for a mission duration of six months with additional sessions at FD210, FD270, and FD330 for a mission duration of one year.  All sessions are ±10 days. They can be scheduled at any time of day, but should be consistent throughout the mission. During the in-flight sessions, the body should be tethered at the waist and with foot loops to maintain a ‘seated’ posture. The Control Pad should be adjacent to and in the same plane as the HRF PC keyboard. Subject will be oriented facing the screen, with the screen at eye level. One segment of the in-flight session will be performed in a ‘free floating’ position using the tether at the waist, but no foot loops.  For this segment, the gamepad will still be in the same plane as the laptop keyboard while the subject faces the screen, with the screen at eye level. Photography of the experiment should be captured at least once per subject during the mission. Data downlink should occur at least one week prior to next scheduled session. This may be scheduled when the HRF Rack is already on for another activity (to save a console session).

    Operational Protocols

    In-flight, a subset of behavioral assessment tests will be performed to complement the pre- and post-flight testing, including a mental rotation test, dual task test, and a joystick-based sensorimotor adaptation test. Three (3) in-flight sessions (on FDs 30, 90, and 150) are required for a mission duration of six months.  Six in-flight sessions (on FDs 30, 90, 150, 210, 270, and 330) are required for a mission duration of one year.  All sessions have a flexibility of +/- 10 days. Each in-flight session will require 40 minutes of crew time. In-flight sessions will utilize the existing HRF PCs and the ESA Control Pad. Photos will be taken for documentary purposes, one session per subject (10 minutes of crew time). Data should be downlinked to the ground and delivered to the principal investigator (PI) prior to next scheduled session. Real-time downlink of data is not required for this study.

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    Results/More Information
    Information Pending

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    Related Websites

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    Imagery