Brain Physiological Response and Adaptation During Spaceflight

Neurosurgery. 2019 Nov 1;85(5):E815-E821. doi: 10.1093/neuros/nyz203.


More than half of astronauts returning from long-duration missions on the International Space Station present with neuro-ocular structural and/or functional changes, including optic disc edema, optic nerve sheath distension, globe flattening, choroidal folds, or hyperopic shifts. This spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS) represents a major risk to future exploration class human spaceflight missions, including Mars missions. Although the exact pathophysiology of SANS is unknown, evidence thus far suggests that an increase in intracranial pressure (ICP) relative to the upright position on Earth, which is due to the loss of hydrostatic pressure gradients in space, may play a leading role. This review focuses on brain physiology in the spaceflight environment, specifically on how spaceflight may affect ICP and related indicators of cranial compliance, potential factors related to the development of SANS, and findings from spaceflight as well as ground-based spaceflight analog research studies.

Keywords: Brain; Intracranial pressure; Microgravity; SANS; Spaceflight; Spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Astronauts*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Choroid Diseases / diagnosis
  • Choroid Diseases / etiology
  • Choroid Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Pressure / physiology*
  • Papilledema / diagnosis
  • Papilledema / etiology
  • Papilledema / physiopathology
  • Space Flight / trends*
  • Vision Disorders / diagnosis
  • Vision Disorders / etiology
  • Vision Disorders / physiopathology
  • Vision, Ocular / physiology*