Modeling intracranial pressures in microgravity: the influence of the blood-brain barrier

Authors: Lakin WD, Stevens SA, Penar PL.

INTRODUCTION: A majority of astronauts experience symptoms of headache, vomiting, nausea, lethargy, and gastric discomfort during the first few hours or days after entering a microgravity environment. Due to similarities in symptoms and their time evolution, it has been hypothesized that some of these conflicts are related to the development of benign intracranial hypertension in these individuals in microgravity.

METHODS: This hypothesis was tested using a validated mathematical model that embeds the intracranial system in whole-body physiology. This model was used to predict steady-state intracranial pressures in response to various cardiovascular stimuli associated with microgravity, including changes in arterial pressure, central venous pressure, and blood colloid osmotic pressure. The model also allowed alterations of the blood-brain barrier due to factors such as gravitational unloading and increased exposure to radiation in space to be considered.

RESULTS: Simulations predicted that intracranial pressure will increase significantly if, combined with a drop in blood colloid osmotic pressure, there is a reduction in the integrity of the blood-brain barrier in microgravity.

DISCUSSION: These results suggest that in some otherwise healthy individuals microgravity environments may elevate intracranial pressure to levels associated with benign intracranial hypertension, producing symptoms that can adversely affect crew health and performance.

Aviat Space Environ Med. 2007 Oct;78(10):932-6.