The effect of prolonged spaceflight on cerebrospinal fluid and perivascular spaces of astronauts and cosmonauts

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2022 Apr 26;119(17):e2120439119. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2120439119. Epub 2022 Apr 11.


Long-duration spaceflight induces changes to the brain and cerebrospinal fluid compartments and visual acuity problems known as spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS). The clinical relevance of these changes and whether they equally affect crews of different space agencies remain unknown. We used MRI to analyze the alterations occurring in the perivascular spaces (PVS) in NASA and European Space Agency astronauts and Roscosmos cosmonauts after a 6-mo spaceflight on the International Space Station (ISS). We found increased volume of basal ganglia PVS and white matter PVS (WM-PVS) after spaceflight, which was more prominent in the NASA crew than the Roscosmos crew. Moreover, both crews demonstrated a similar degree of lateral ventricle enlargement and decreased subarachnoid space at the vertex, which was correlated with WM-PVS enlargement. As all crews experienced the same environment aboard the ISS, the differences in WM-PVS enlargement may have been due to, among other factors, differences in the use of countermeasures and high-resistive exercise regimes, which can influence brain fluid redistribution. Moreover, NASA astronauts who developed SANS had greater pre- and postflight WM-PVS volumes than those unaffected. These results provide evidence for a potential link between WM-PVS fluid and SANS.

Keywords: brain; microgravity; perivascular space; spaceflight; spaceflight-associated neuroocular syndrome.

MeSH terms

  • Astronauts*
  • Cerebrospinal Fluid* / diagnostic imaging
  • Glymphatic System* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Space Flight*
  • Vision Disorders* / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Vision Disorders* / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging