Effect of Gravitational Context on EEG Dynamics: A Study of Spatial Cognition, Novelty Processing and Sensorimotor Integration (Neurospat) - 12.20.17

Overview | Description | Applications | Operations | Results | Publications | Imagery

ISS Science for Everyone

Science Objectives for Everyone
The Neurospat experiment is improving our knowledge of how astronaut perception is altered in space, where gravity cannot help with orientation, and what areas of the brain are responsible. This could help in finding / developing countermeasures alleviating any disorientation experienced by astronauts especially during key activities such as spacewalks and docking/undocking of spacecraft.
 
Science Results for Everyone
These are your brain waves on microgravity. Electroencepholographic recordings were obtained from astronauts performing a visuo-attentional task while in space. Despite the nature of the task, which was meant to engage the visual system and attentional networks, brain activity was observed in bilateral primary motor areas and cerebellum. These results suggest that while the brain was performing a visuo-attentional task in space, it continued to integrate error signals from vestibular and motor systems to maintain body posture.

The following content was provided by L. Balazs, Guy Cheron, and is maintained in a database by the ISS Program Science Office.
Information provided courtesy of the Erasmus Experiment Archive.
Experiment Details

OpNom:

Principal Investigator(s)
L. Balazs, Institute for Psychology of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest, Hungary
Guy Cheron, • Biomechanics Faculty of Movement Science, Université Libre de Bruxelles, , Brussels, Belgium

Co-Investigator(s)/Collaborator(s)
J. Achimowicz, Department of Psychology, Warsaw, Poland
G. Karmos
I. Barkaszi, Hungary
F Leurs, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
Ana Bengoetxea, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
Joseph McIntyre, College de France, Paris, France
Alain Berthoz, LPPA/CNRS-College de France, Paris, France
M. Molnar
Ana Maria Cebolla, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium
E. Nagy
I. Czigler
L. Pató, Hungary
Caty de Saedeleer, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium

Developer(s)
Information Pending

Sponsoring Space Agency
European Space Agency (ESA)

Sponsoring Organization
Information Pending

Research Benefits
Information Pending

ISS Expedition Duration
April 2009 - October 2009; September 2010 - March 2011; September 2011 - May 2012; September 2012 - September 2013

Expeditions Assigned
19/20,25/26,29/30,33/34,35/36

Previous Missions
Neurospat was first operated on ISS Expedition 19/20.

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Experiment Description

Research Overview

  • Effect of Gravitational Context on EEG Dynamics: A Study of Spatial Cognition, Novelty Processing and Sensorimotor Integration (Neurospat) is composed of two principal experimental tasks: Visual Orientation and Visuomotor Tracking, plus additional, standardized electroencephalogram (EEG) tasks performed as a means of assessing general effects of the space station environment on EEG signals.

Description

Neurospat uses physiological and behavioral measures to assess both the changes in general activation, prefrontal brain function and perceptual reorganization. Indices of electroencephalogram (EEG), event related brain potentials (ERP), reaction time and errors are measured in a spatial orientation task. The stimulus set also contains task irrelevant unique visual stimuli to allow assessment of electrophysiological correlates of novelty processing.

Effect of gravitational context on brain processing: A study of sensorimotor integration using event related EEG dynamics. In this project the purpose is to study brain activity that underlies cognitive processes involved in four different tasks that crewmembers may encounter on a daily basis:

  • visuomotor tracking

  • perception of self-orientation

  • 3D navigation

  • discrimination of objects orientation

These tasks are designed to evoke adapted responses of the sensorimotorsystem in the presence or absence of gravity. For each paradigm the involvement of five cognitive processes will be examined: perception, attention, memorization, decision and action. The roles played by gravity on these neural processes will be analyzed by measuring evoked potentials and EEG dynamics methods during virtual reality stimulation.

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Applications

Space Applications
Previous neuroscience research has highlighted various differences between perception on earth and in space. Without gravity to act as a stimulus, some of the most important neural sensors in the body cannot provide the assistance they would normally provide for orientation purposes. Astronauts therefore rely more heavily on visual perception for orientation. For this reason understanding what altered visual perception occurs in weightlessness, and what areas of the brain are responsible, is an important element in making sure that this does not present any issues for undertaking mission activities, especially key activities such as spacewalks and dockings/undockings. Results generated could form a key part of mission planning and therefore optimise the chances of achieving all mission goals and secure optimal mission success. It could also potentially feed into the design of equipment for use in orbit.

Earth Applications
Understanding how the neural processes of perception adapt to weightlessness in turn provides an insight into exactly how perception is altered by the presence of gravity. This research could therefore improve our fundamental knowledge of how the human central nervous system functions on earth. Furthermore drawing similarities between the disorientation experienced by astronauts when first adapting to weightlessness and certain medical conditions on earth where disorientation can be an important symptom, can provide important information of the areas of the brain responsible which could help with the treatment of such conditions. The development of these electrophysiological experimental protocols promises to provide a new tool for clinical testing of spatial cognition, altered in pathological conditions and in normal aging.

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Operations

Operational Requirements and Protocols

Five long-term subjects are required to complete Neurospat. This experiment is to be performed in a relatively calm environment; i.e. without major activities going on in the same module.


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Decadal Survey Recommendations

Information Pending

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Results/More Information

Neural oscillation is periodic neural activity deemed to represent communication between multiple cortical regions. Electroencephalography (EEG), a non-invasive technique, measures the frequency and amplitude of neural oscillations to understand different brain states that arise from cortico-cortical communication. For example, studies of visual attention have revealed that alpha waves (8-12 Hz) increase in occipito-parietal regions when individuals are in a state of relaxed wakefulness with eyes closed, but decrease when eyes are opened. This indicates that alpha rhythms relate to the absence or presence of visual input.
 
In microgravity, the brain must properly adapt to control changes in posture, hand-eye coordination, spatial orientation and navigation. Previous EEG studies have demonstrated that alpha rhythms produced by eye-opening/closure states are increased in microgravity relative to ground. The present study examined the effect of microgravity on visual attention to explore and understand how this novel environment impacted visual inputs to the cortex.
 
Five astronauts were tested as part of this study. Testing occurred twice before launch, twice while aboard the International Space Station (ISS), and four times after return. The astronauts observed a virtual environment displayed on the computer screen that simulated one of two scenarios: one piloting a spaceship towards the ISS or one piloting a spaceship away from the ISS. The goal was to match positions between the spaceship and the ISS. During the first part of the task, astronauts were asked to observe all visual stimuli without performing any movements. This first part was referred to as the “visuo-attentional” period and it corresponded to low engagement of attention, purely observational. During the second part of the task, astronauts were asked to make any manual adjustments necessary to match the origin and the target using a joystick. This second part was referred to as the “visuo-motor” period.
 
During all ground testing, the alpha ERD (event-related desynchronization) was consistently localized in the posterior cingulate cortex – a brain region typically involved in wakefulness and alertness, but not actively engaged in tasks that require a high level of attention. In microgravity, the alpha ERD significantly increased throughout the visuo-attentional period, corresponding to the mu rhythm. The alpha-mu ERD was localized in bilateral primary motor areas. Thus, the activity of the motor cortex observed in microgravity exceeded the activity of the posterior cingulate cortex observed on the ground. Interestingly, astronauts were asked to not execute any explicit movements during the visuo-attentional period. Therefore, the activity measured in the bilateral motor cortex might be explained by the need to readjust or maintain an appropriate body posture at the beginning of each experimental trial. Results additionally revealed significant cerebellar activation in microgravity relative to the ground condition. Because this cerebellar activation was not identified in the alpha-mu ERD with respect to the baseline (i.e. period preceding the visual stimulus onset), this suggests that it was present during the whole testing period and it was not specifically related to the visuo-attentional task. Cerebellar activation may be explained by the free-floating posture and motor programs that involve postural stabilization and spatial orientation in microgravity.
 
In summary, an increased alpha ERD in the bilateral motor cortex was observed in microgravity while executing a low-level visuo-attentional task. The involvement of motor regions was probably in response to the demands of continuous readjustment of body posture in microgravity. Additionally, an increased alpha ERD in the cerebellum was observed in microgravity, which might reflect corrections and error signals necessary for postural stabilization as well as integration of incongruent vestibular information.

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Results Publications

    Cheron G, Leroy A, de Saedeleer C, Bengoetxea A, Lipshits M, Cebolla AM, Servais L, Dan B, Berthoz A, McIntyre J.  Effect of Gravity on Human Spontaneous 10-Hz Electroencephalographic Oscillations During the Arrest Reaction. Brain Research. 2006 November; 1121(1): 104-116. DOI: 10.1016/j.brainres.2006.08.098. PMID: 17034767.

    Cebolla AM, Petieau M, Dan B, Balazs L, McIntyre J, Cheron G.  Cerebellar contribution to visuo-attentional alpha rhythm: insights from weightlessness. Scientific Reports. 2016 November 24; 6: 37824. DOI: 10.1038/srep37824. PMID: 27883068.

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Ground Based Results Publications

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ISS Patents

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Related Publications

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Related Websites

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Imagery

image Canadian astronaut Bob Thirsk gives his crew mate Frank De Winne a helping hand with the European Space Agency experiment NeuroSpat.
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NASA Image: ISS030E022613 - European Space Agency (ESA) Andre Kuipers,Expedition 30 Flight Engineer (FE),during his first orbital NEUROSPAT session. Andre is wearing an Electroencephalogram (EEG) electrode cap and optimizing channel impedance of the electrodes before starting measurements. NeuroSpat investigates the ways in which crew members' three-dimensional visual and space perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness.

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NASA Image: ISS030E022627 - European Space Agency (ESA) Andre Kuipers,Expedition 30 Flight Engineer, during his first orbital NEUROSPAT session. Andre is wearing an Electroencephalogram (EEG) electrode cap and optimizing channel impedance of the electrodes before starting measurements. NeuroSpat investigates the ways in which crew members' three-dimensional visual and space perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness. Photo taken during Expedition 30.

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NASA Image: ISS030E116907 - Wearing an Electroencephalogram (EEG) electrode cap, European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers, Expedition 30 Flight Engineer, performs a NeuroSpat science session in the Columbus laboratory of the International Space Station. NeuroSpat investigates the ways in which crew members’ three-dimensional visual and space perception is affected by long-duration stays in weightlessness.

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image NASA Image: JSC2010E184283 - Internal view of the Electroencephalograph (EEG) Cap.
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NASA Image: JSC2008E032967 - Neurospat Light Shield Frame and Light Shield.

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NASA Image: JSC2008E032966 - Neurospat Control Pad bracket and Control Pad.

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