Circadian challenge of astronauts' unconscious mind adapting to microgravity in space, estimated by heart rate variability

Kuniaki Otsuka, Germaine G Cornelissen-Guillaume, Yutaka Kubo, Koichi Shibata, Mitsutoshi Hayashi, Koh Mizuno, Hiroshi Ohshima, Satoshi Furukawa, Chiaki Mukai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


It is critical that the regulatory system functions well in space's microgravity. However, the "intrinsic" cardiovascular regulatory system (β), estimated by the fractal scaling of heart rate variability (HRV) (0.0001-0.01 Hz), does not adapt to the space environment during long-duration (6-month) space flights. Neuroimaging studies suggest that the default mode network (DMN) serves a broad adaptive purpose, its topology changing over time in association with different brain states of adaptive behavior. Hypothesizing that HRV varies in concert with changes in brain's functional connectivity, we analyzed 24-hour HRV records from 8 healthy astronauts (51.8 ± 3.7 years; 6 men) on long (174.5 ± 13.8 days) space missions, obtained before launch, after about 21 (ISS01), 73 (ISS02), and 156 (ISS03) days in space, and after return to Earth. Spectral power in 8 frequency regions reflecting activity in different brain regions was computed by maximal entropy. Improved β (p < 0.05) found in 4 astronauts with a positive activation in the "HRV slow-frequency oscillation" (0.10-0.20 Hz) occurred even in the absence of consciousness. The adaptive response was stronger in the evening and early sleep compared to morning (p = 0.039). Brain functional networks, the DMN in particular, can help adapt to microgravity in space with help from the circadian clock.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number10381
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Dr. I. Tayama, T. Aiba and S. Ishida from the Space Biomedical Research Group, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), for cooperation in our study. The authors also acknowledge the cooperation of the astronauts, the engineers, staff and managers of JAXA and NASA. The help of Larry A. Beaty to improve the English language for greater clarity and readability is greatly appreciated. JAXA Chronobiology Project was supported by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (K.M., H.O., S.F., C.M.) and Halberg Chronobiology Fund (G.C.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The Author(s).


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