An international collaboration studying the physiological and anatomical cerebral effects of carbon dioxide during head-down tilt bed rest: the SPACECOT study

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2017 Jun 1;122(6):1398-1405. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00885.2016. Epub 2017 Feb 23.


Exposure to the microgravity environment results in various adaptive and maladaptive physiological changes in the human body, with notable ophthalmic abnormalities developing during 6-mo missions on the International Space Station (ISS). These findings have led to the hypothesis that the loss of gravity induces a cephalad fluid shift, decreased cerebral venous outflow, and increased intracranial pressure, which may be further exacerbated by increased ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the ISS. Here we describe the SPACECOT study (studying the physiological and anatomical cerebral effects of CO2 during head-down tilt), a randomized, double-blind crossover design study with two conditions: 29 h of 12° head-down tilt (HDT) with ambient air and 29 h of 12° HDT with 0.5% CO2 The internationally collaborative SPACECOT study utilized an innovative approach to study the effects of headward fluid shifting induced by 12° HDT and increased ambient CO2 as well as their interaction with a focus on cerebral and ocular anatomy and physiology. Here we provide an in-depth overview of this new approach including the subjects, study design, and implementation, as well as the standardization plan for nutritional intake, environmental parameters, and bed rest procedures.NEW & NOTEWORTHY A new approach for investigating the combined effects of cephalad fluid shifting and increased ambient carbon dioxide (CO2) is presented. This may be useful for studying the neuroophthalmic and cerebral effects of spaceflight where cephalad fluid shifts occur in an elevated CO2 environment.

Keywords: analog; intracranial pressure; microgravity; spaceflight; visual impairment.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bed Rest / methods
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism*
  • Cerebral Veins / metabolism
  • Cerebral Veins / physiology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Head-Down Tilt / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Pressure / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rest / physiology*
  • Space Flight / methods
  • Weightlessness
  • Weightlessness Simulation / methods


  • Carbon Dioxide