npj Microgravity Article: Intrinsic cardiovascular autonomic regulatory system of astronauts exposed long-term to microgravity in space: observational study

This article by Kuniaki Otsuka, Yutaka Kubo, Mitsutoshi Hayashi, Naomune Yamamoto and Koichi Shibata (Tokyo Women’s Medical University, Tokyo, Japan), Germaine Cornelissen (University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN, USA), Tatsuya Aiba, Satoshi Furukawa, Hiroshi Ohshima and Chiaki Mukai (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, Tokyo, Japan) was published online by npj Microgravity on November 30, 2015.


The fractal scaling of the long-term heart rate variability (HRV) reflects the ‘intrinsic’ autonomic regulatory system. Herein, we examine how microgravity on the ISS affected the power-law scaling β (beta) of astronauts during a long-duration (about 6 months) spaceflight. Ambulatory electrocardiographic (ECG) monitoring was performed on seven healthy astronauts (5 men, 52.0±4.2 years of age) five times: before launch, 24±5 (F01) and 73±5 (F02) days after launch, 15±5 days before return (F03), and after return to Earth. The power-law scaling β was calculated as the slope of the regression line of the power density of the MEM spectrum versus frequency plotted on a log10–log10 scale in the range of 0.0001–0.01 Hz (corresponding to periods of 2.8 h to 1.6 min). β was less negative in space (−0.949±0.061) than on Earth (−1.163±0.075; P<0.025). The difference was more pronounced during the awake than during the rest/sleep span. The circadian amplitude and acrophase (phase of maximum) of β did not differ in space as compared with Earth. An effect of microgravity was detected within 1 month (F01) in space and continued throughout the spaceflight. The intrinsic autonomic regulatory system that protects life under serious environmental conditions on Earth is altered in the microgravity environment, with no change over the 6-month spaceflight. It is thus important to find a way to improve conditions in space and/or in terms of human physiology, not to compromise the intrinsic autonomic regulatory system now that plans are being made to inhabit another planet in the near future.

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