Longitudinal change in ventricular volume is accelerated in astronauts undergoing long-duration spaceflight

Aging Brain. 2021 Jun 3:1:100017. doi: 10.1016/j.nbas.2021.100017. eCollection 2021.


An 11-25% increase in total ventricular volume has been documented in astronauts following spaceflight on the ISS. Given the approximately 2-year time interval between pre- and post-flight MRI, it is unknown if ventricular enlargement simply reflects normal aging or is unique to spaceflight exposure. Therefore, we compared percent ventricular volume change per year (PVVC/yr) documented on pre- to post-flight MRI in a group of NASA ISS astronauts (n = 18, 16.7% women, mean age (SD) 48.43 (4.35) years) with two groups who underwent longitudinal MRI: (1.) healthy age- and sex-matched adults (n = 18, 16.7% women, mean age (SD) 51.26 (3.88) years), and (2.) healthy older adults (n = 79, 16.5% women, mean age (SD) 73.26 (5.34) years). The astronauts, who underwent a mean (SD) 173.4 (51.3) days in spaceflight, showed a greater increase in PVVC/yr than the control (6.86 vs 2.23%, respectively, p < .001) and older adult (4.18%, p = 0.04) groups. These results highlight that on top of physiologically ventricular volume changes due to normal aging, NASA astronauts undergoing ISS missions experience an additional 4.63% PVVC/yr and underscore the need to perform post-flight follow-up scans to determine the time course of PVVC in astronauts over time back on Earth along with monitoring to determine if the PVVC is ultimately clinically relevant.

One sentence summary: NASA astronauts who were exposed to prolonged spaceflight experienced an annual rate of ventricular expansion more than three times that expected from normal aging.

Keywords: Cerebral ventricles; ISS, International Space Station; Normal aging; PVVC, percent ventricular volume change; Spaceflight.