Does Long-Duration Exposure to Microgravity Lead to Dysregulation of the Brain and Ocular Glymphatic Systems?
Eye and Brain
Spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome (SANS) has been well documented in astronauts both during and after long-duration spaceflight and is characterized by the development of optic disc edema, globe flattening, choroidal folds, and hyperopic refractive error shifts. The exact mechanisms underlying these ophthalmic abnormalities remain unclear. New findings regarding spaceflight-associated alterations in cerebrospinal fluid spaces, specifically perivascular spaces, may shed more light on
... he pathophysiology of SANS. The preliminary results of a recent brain magnetic resonance imaging study show that perivascular spaces enlarge under prolonged microgravity conditions, and that the amount of fluid in perivascular spaces is linked to SANS. The exact pathophysiological mechanisms underlying enlargement of perivascular spaces in space crews are currently unclear. Here, we speculate that the dilation of perivascular spaces observed in long-duration space travelers may result from impaired cerebral venous outflow and compromised cerebrospinal fluid resorption, leading to obstruction of glymphatic perivenous outflow and increased periarterial cerebrospinal fluid inflow, respectively. Further, we provide a possible explanation for how dilated perivascular spaces can be associated with SANS. Given that enlarged perivascular spaces in space crews may be a marker of altered venous hemodynamics and reduced cerebrospinal fluid outflow, at the level of the optic nerve and eye, these disturbances may contribute to SANS. If confirmed by further studies, brain glymphatic dysfunction in space crews could potentially be considered a risk factor for the development of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, long-duration exposure to microgravity might contribute to SANS through dysregulation of the ocular glymphatic system. If prolonged spaceflight exposure causes disruption of the glymphatic systems, this might affect the ability to conduct future exploration missions, for example, to Mars. The considerations outlined in the present paper further stress the crucial need to develop effective long-term countermeasures to mitigate SANS-related physiologic changes during long-duration spaceflight.