Dr. Michael A. Schmidt, President and Chief Scientific Officer of Sovaris Aerospace, recently lectured at the 2015 NASA Human Research Program Investigators’ Workshop, Integrated Pathways to Mars (January 2015). Dr. Schmidt presented the work of his team, which includes research partner and co-investigator Dr. Thomas J. Goodwin of NASA Johnson Space Center. Dr. Schmidt’s group is focused on assessing the biological, biochemical, and physiologic demands placed on human and biological systems in the complexity of space. The presentation was entitled, “Protecting Neural Structures and Cognitive Function during Prolonged Space Flight by Targeting the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor Molecular Network.”
The presentation abstract appears below:
PROTECTING NEURAL STRUCTURES AND COGNITIVE FUNCTION DURING PROLONGED SPACE FLIGHT BY TARGETING THE BRAIN DERIVED NEUROTROPHIC FACTOR MOLECULAR NETWORK
M. A. Schmidt1 and T. J. Goodwin2
1Advanced Pattern Analysis & Countermeasures Group, Sovaris Aerospace, Research Innovation Center, Infectious Disease Research Complex, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO; 2Biomedical Research and Environmental Sciences Division, Disease Modeling and Tissue Analogues Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston, TX
Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is the main activity-dependent neurotrophin in the human nervous system. BDNF is implicated in production of new neurons from dentate gyrus stem cells (hippocampal neurogenesis), synapse formation, sprouting of new axons, growth of new axons, sprouting of new dendrites, and neuron survival. Alterations in the amount or activity of BDNF can produce significant detrimental changes to cortical function and synaptic transmission in the human brain. This can result in glial and neuronal dysfunction, which may contribute to a range of clinical conditions, spanning a number of learning, behavioral, and neurological disorders.
There is an extensive body of work surrounding the BDNF molecular network, including BDNF gene polymorphisms, methylated BDNF gene promoters, multiple gene transcripts, varied BDNF functional proteins, and different BDNF receptors (whose activation differentially drive the neuron to neurogenesis or apoptosis). BDNF is also closely linked to mitochondrial biogenesis through PGC-1α, which can influence brain and muscle metabolic efficiency.
BDNF AS A HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT COUNTERMEASURE TARGET
Earth-based studies reveal that BDNF is negatively impacted by many of the conditions encountered in the space environment, including oxidative stress, radiation, psychological stressors, sleep deprivation, and many others. A growing body of work suggests that the BDNF network is responsive to a range of diet, nutrition, exercise, drug, and other types of influences. This section explores the BDNF network in the context of 1) protecting the brain and nervous system in the space environment, 2) optimizing neurobehavioral performance in space, and 3) reducing the residual effects of space flight on the nervous system on return to Earth.