Changes in Optic Nerve Head and Retinal Morphology During Spaceflight and Acute Fluid Shift Reversal

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JAMA Ophthalmol


Importance: Countermeasures that reverse the headward fluid shift experienced in weightlessness have the potential to mitigate spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome. This study investigated whether use of the countermeasure lower-body negative pressure during spaceflight was associated with changes in ocular structure.

Objective: To determine whether changes to the optic nerve head and retina during spaceflight can be mitigated by brief in-flight application of 25-mm Hg lower-body negative pressure.

Design, Setting, and Participants: In the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's "Fluid Shifts Study," a prospective cohort study, optical coherence tomography scans of the optic nerve head and macula were obtained from US and international crew members before flight, in-flight, and up to 180 days after return to Earth. In-flight scans were obtained both under normal weightless conditions and 10 to 20 minutes into lower-body negative pressure exposure. Preflight and postflight data were collected in the seated, supine, and head-down tilt postures. Crew members completed 6- to 12-month missions that took place on the International Space Station. Data were analyzed from 2016 to 2021.

Interventions or Exposures: Spaceflight and lower-body negative pressure.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Changes in minimum rim width, optic cup volume, Bruch membrane opening height, peripapillary total retinal thickness, and macular thickness.

Results: Mean (SD) flight duration for the 14 crew members (mean [SD] age, 45 [6] years; 11 male crew members [79%]) was 214 (72) days. Ocular changes on flight day 150, as compared with preflight seated, included an increase in minimum rim width (33.8 μm; 95% CI, 27.9-39.7 μm; P < .001), decrease in cup volume (0.038 mm3; 95% CI, 0.030-0.046 mm3; P < .001), posterior displacement of Bruch membrane opening (-9.0 μm; 95% CI, -15.7 to -2.2 μm; P = .009), and decrease in macular thickness (fovea to 500 μm, 5.1 μm; 95% CI, 3.5-6.8 μm; P < .001). Brief exposure to lower-body negative pressure did not affect these parameters.

Conclusions and Relevance: Results of this cohort study suggest that peripapillary tissue thickening, decreased cup volume, and mild central macular thinning were associated with long-duration spaceflight. Acute exposure to 25-mm Hg lower-body negative pressure did not alter optic nerve head or retinal morphology, suggesting that longer durations of a fluid shift reversal may be needed to mitigate spaceflight-induced changes and/or other factors are involved.

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ePub ahead of print





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