Prolonged microgravity induces reversible and persistent changes on human cerebral connectivity
The prospect of continued manned space missions warrants an in-depth understanding of how prolonged microgravity affects the human brain. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can pinpoint changes reflecting adaptive neuroplasticity across time. We acquired resting-state fMRI data of cosmonauts before, shortly after, and eight months after spaceflight as a follow-up to assess global connectivity changes over time. Our results show persisting connectivity decreases in posterior cingulate cortex and thalamus and persisting increases in the right angular gyrus. Connectivity in the bilateral insular cortex decreased after spaceflight, which reversed at follow-up. No significant connectivity changes across eight months were found in a matched control group. Overall, we show that altered gravitational environments influence functional connectivity longitudinally in multimodal brain hubs, reflecting adaptations to unfamiliar and conflicting sensory input in microgravity. These results provide insights into brain functional modifications occurring during spaceflight, and their further development when back on Earth.