This is your brain on cosmic radiation

Since the success of its mid-twentieth century missions to the moon, NASA has spent much of the last half-century observing the far reaches of the universe in hopes of finding humanity’s next home. With all the promise and excitement surrounding the future of extraterrestrial exploration, the issue of astronaut health is often overlooked.

Image from: Wikimedia Commons

Researchers previously investigated the effect of space travel on the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Due to Earth’s atmosphere, humans are protected from most solar and cosmic radiation. However, upon exiting the atmosphere, astronauts are exposed to very high levels of radiation. Examining the effects of this radiation on the human body is crucial for developing a method to counteract or prevent its effects on future long-term manned missions. In addition to radiation, the low-gravity environment in space has also been shown to have adverse effects on the human body.

In this review article, Jandial et. al. summarize recent findings about the effects of space exposure on the central nervous system. There is growing consensus that prolonged exposure to cosmic radiation causes permanent structural changes neurons, the primary cells of the nervous system. These cells integrate a variety of signals carrying important sensory information and propagate these signals throughout the body. In mice, exposure to cosmic radiation impaired memory and judgement. At a cellular level, low-gravity impaired fundamental processes like DNA replication, RNA transcription, and protein transport.

As we plan to explore space and colonize other planets, the dangerous effects of space exposure on the human body must be fully investigated. Maintaining neurological health should be a priority due to the complex tasks that astronauts are required to complete during their extraterrestrial missions. Indeed, the neurological health of astronauts is key to the success of any mission.

Fun Fact: In 2016, the University of Calgary’s iGEM team used synthetic biology to developed a device to protect astronauts from radiation in space.

Summary written by: Mohammed Abdelmalek

To read the full article, click the following link:

Space–brain: The negative effects of space exposure on the central nervous system

Rahul Jandial, Reid Hoshide, J. Dawn Waters, Charles L. Limoli

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