New on Dysfunctional vestibular system causes a blood pressure drop in astronauts returning from space

Published online on December 15, 2015, this article by Emma Hallgren Floris L. Wuyts and Erik Fransen (University of Antwerp, Belgium), Pierre-François Migeotte and Quentin Delière (Université libre de Bruxelles & Erasmus Hospital, Brussels, Belgium), Ludmila Kornilova and Dmitrii Glukhikh (Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia), Steven T. Moore (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City, USA), Gilles Clément (University of Lyon, France), André Diedrich (Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, USA) and Hamish MacDougall (University of Sydney, Australia) is now available to view.

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It is a challenge for the human body to maintain stable blood pressure while standing. The body’s failure to do so can lead to dizziness or even fainting. For decades it has been postulated that the vestibular organ can prevent a drop in pressure during a position change – supposedly mediated by reflexes to the cardiovascular system. We show – for the first time – a significant correlation between decreased functionality of the vestibular otolith system and a decrease in the mean arterial pressure when a person stands up. Until now, no experiments on Earth could selectively suppress both otolith systems; astronauts returning from space are a unique group of subjects in this regard. Their otolith systems are being temporarily disturbed and at the same time they often suffer from blood pressure instability. In our study, we observed the functioning of both the otolith and the cardiovascular system of the astronauts before and after spaceflight. Our finding indicates that an intact otolith system plays an important role in preventing blood pressure instability during orthostatic challenges. Our finding not only has important implications for human space exploration; they may also improve the treatment of unstable blood pressure here on Earth.

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Richa Dandona

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