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Raport of current staus of Neurospat ISS Project Spatial psychomotor performance in conditions of weightlessness
NEUROSPAT - The effect of gravitational context on EEG dynamics: A study of spatial
cognition, novelty processing and sensorimotor integration
1. 2009 • ISS Increment 20
2. 2010 • ISS Increment 25-26
3. 2010 • ISS MagISStra - long-duration mission
4. 2011 • ISS Increment 27-28
5. 2011 • ISS Increment 29-30 (PromISSe)
6. 2012 • ISS Increment 31-32
7. 2012 • ISS Increment 33-34
8. 2013 • ISS Increment 35-36
Life Sciences:
Human Physiology
EPM (European Physiology module)
Patrik Sundblad
L. Balazs (1), G. Cheron (2), J. Achimowicz (3), G. Karmos (1), I. Barkaszi (1), F. Leurs (2), A.M.
Bengoetxea Arrese (2), J. McIntyre (6), A. Berthoz (4), M. Molnar (1), A.M. Cebolla Alvarez (2),
E. Nagy (5), I. Czigler (1), L. Pató (1), C. de Saedeleer (2), M. Petieau (2)
Institute for Psychology
Hungarian Academy of Sciences
Victor Hugo u. 18-22.
1132 Budapest
Laboratory of Neuophysiology and
Movement Biomechanics
Université Libre de Bruxelles
28, Avenue P. Héger, CP 168
1000 Bruxelles
College of Finance and Management
Department of Psychology
Pawia Street 55
01-030 Warsaw
LPPA/CNRS - Collège de France
11 place Marcelin Berthelot
75005 Paris
Dr. Nagy & Co.Ltd.
1143 Budapest, Ilka u. 30
CNRS - Université Paris Descartes
Centre d´Etude de la Sensorimotricité
45, rue des Saints Pères
75006 Paris, France
The experiment examines changes in spatial orientation and perception due to
spaceflight conditions.
These changes will be assessed by recording behavioural measures (speed and
accuracy) as well as neurophysiological signals (EEG, EMG) during performance of a
series of visuo-motor tasks.
It involves recording of the electroencephalographic activity of the brain (EEG
dynamics) and event related potentials (ERP) during performance of a visual-
orientation perception and visuo-motor tracking task that humans and astronauts may
encounter on a daily basis. Within the experiment, 5 cognitive processes (Perception,
Attention, Memorization, Decision and Action) will be studied.
The stimulus set will also contain task-irrelevant novel visual stimuli to allow
assessment of electrophysiological correlates of novelty processing. Psychophysical
analyses will also be measured during these tasks. EEG and ERP recordings will
also allow evaluation of the arousal levels of the subjects. In addition to conventional
spectral analysis, EEG will be quantified with maps of linear and nonlinear
complexity. As the novel conditions of microgravity accompanied by a multitude of
stressors may place an increased load on the cognitive capacity of the human brain,
we hypothesize that sensory signals and motor responses must be processed and
interpreted in a new reference frame.
In addition to the sensitivity to changes in spatial orientation the experiment is
designed to be particularly responsive to assess changes in prefrontal brain
functioning. This area is known to be especially important for the higher organisation
of behaviour and particularly vulnerable to stressors such as fatigue, sleep loss or
hypoxia. By assessing measures of prefrontal functioning the experiment may
provide insight to the causes of occasional slips in operational performance of
The complexitiy of methods does not allow performing such experiments in parabolic
flights while bed-rest studies cannot offer the opportunity to examine spatial
orientation in the absence perceptual cues provided by gravity.
EEG: electroencephalogram, for measuring overall electrical activity in the brain
EMG: electromyogram, for measuring electrical activity in the muscles
ECG: electrocardiogram, for measuring electrical activity in the heart
EOG: electro-oculogram, for measuring electrical activity in the eye
Role of the gravitational component of the efference copy in the control of
upper limb movements (CNES)
2nd Joint European Partial gravity Parabolic Flight campaign 2012
Role of the gravitational component of the efference copy in the control of
upper limb movements (CNES)
1st Joint European Partial gravity Parabolic Flight campaign - 2011
Effects of Changing Gravity on Ocular-motor coordination
51st ESA Parabolic Flight Campaign 2009
Dexterous Manipulation in microgravity
48th ESA Parabolic Flight Campaign 2008
NEUROCOG - Directed attention brain potentials in virtual 3D space in
ISS 5S, 8S, 9, 10 - 2002, 2004, 2005
The experiment is composed of 2 principal experimental tasks related to our
hypotheses Visual Orientation and Visuomotor Tracking plus additional,
standardized EEG tasks performed as a means of assessing general effects of the
space station environment on EEG signals. The Visual Orientation task is designed
to assess the influence of weightlessness to perception of spatial directions.
Task 0: EEG control tasks
Subjects perform one or two standard EEG control tasks in a period of 5 minutes to
provide baseline data on known phenomena. The exact protocols to be performed
may include an eyes-open/eyes-closed paradigm, a visual “oddball” paradigm based
on oriented visual stimuli or a standard visually evoked potential (VEP) from an
alternating checkerboard pattern. In all cases the subject simply observed the laptop
screen while the visual stimuli are presented.
Task 1: Visual Orientation Perception
The Visual Orientation task will be performed in 3 conditions with variations of the
amount of spatial cognitive difficulty and the visual reference frame.
Condition 1 (Lines Task):
In Condition 1. the subject has to decide whether the orientation of 2 consecutively
presented lines are same or different. Task irrelevant stimuli (pictures) will also be
presented occasionally in the place of the probe stimulus. Subjects should not press
either button when presented with these novelty stimuli.
Condition 2 (Clock Task, no frame condition):
In Condition 2 the reference orientation is specified by a digitally presented clock-
time, which is to be compared to a consecutively-presented direction indicated by a
dot on an imaginary analog clock face. Task irrelevant stimuli (pictures of butterflies)
will also be presented occasionally in the place of the probe stimulus. Subjects
should not press either button when presented with these novelty stimuli.
Condition 3 (Clock Task, frame condition):
In Condition 3 the same comparison is to be made in the presence of a visually
orienting rectangular frame. The ambiguity of the visual reference shall be more
influential in 0g.
In 1g conditions vertical and horizontal directions are processed more readily as
compared to oblique directions.
According to existing evidence the phenomenon referred as the Oblique Effect is
influenced by misalignment of proprioceptive and gravitational references. The task
entails matching the directions of visually presented reference lines to those of
consecutive probe lines. Enhancement of early (N1 and P1) components of the ERP
evoked by reference lines of various orientations reflect preferred processing of non-
oblique directions in the primary visual areas. Increased speed and accuracy of
responses as well as enhancement of late (P3b) components of ERP shall indicate
readiness of decision making and reacting to the preferred directions. All of these
differences are expected to be diminished in 0g as compared to pre- and post-flight
controls in 1g. Task irrelevant novel pictures are presented occasionally in place of
probe lines. These stimuli typically evoke an ERP component (P3a) originating from
and sensitive to the functionality of the prefrontal brain areas.
Diminished P3a should indicate weakened pre-frontal functioning due to various
environmental stressors, fatigue and sleep loss in spaceflight conditions.
Independent ground based control studies will apply various stressors to distinct
study groups in order to investigate the differences in the patterns of changes caused
by each of these
Task 2: Visuomotor Tracking
In the Visuomotor Tracking task astronaut subjects will observe a virtual
environment displayed on a computer screen that simulates what would be observed
when piloting a space ship. The desired heading will be indicated on the screen by
means of a moving visual target. At the beginning of each trial, target movements will
reflect random, zero-mean noise. At some moment in time, however, the target will
deviate from the nominal straight-ahead position. Subjects will be required to perform
as quickly as possible a manual adjustment to the system by pressing on a small
isometric joystick operated with the hand.
Recordings of EEG during this task will provide an indication of which brain regions
are related to the perception of movement. ERPs will be computed from EEG traces
synchronised and averaged with respect to different events occurring during the task,
such as the moment when the visual target starts to deviate or the moment when the
subject responds. The figure below provides an example of EEG recordings from 3
different electrodes (FZ, CZ, PZ) at different places on the scalp. Signals averaged
over many trials in response to a visual event occurring at time 0. The labels N1, P2,
N2 and P3 indicate deviations of the EEG signal that are known to correspond to
different aspects of the task that the subject must perform. These and other
potentials will be studied in the NeuroSpat experiment. For instance, the preparation
of movement will be analysed by means of the recording of the slow potentials
(readiness potentials (RP), directed action potentials (DAP) and relaxation potentials
(RXP). The amount of cortical control of action will be quantified by means of the
cortico-muscular coherence method (cross-correlation between EEG and EMG
In addition to the tasks measurement of short periods of resting EEG activity with
eyes open and eyes closed as well as ERPs evoked by flashing checkerboard stimuli
provide calibration and reference data. Photomodeling based on pictures taken after
mounting the electrode cap provide exact measurement of electrode positions.
Ground Seated: The subject is seated upright comfortably in a chair. If using the
laptop computer with tunnel and mask, a ground support stand is adjusted to position
the mask/tunnel/laptop at the level of the eyes for viewing. The height of the elbow
pads is adjusted to allow the subject to comfortable grasp the grips on the laptop
In-flight Freefloating: The subject adopts a freefloating or quasi-freefloating posture
and should have no rigid contact with the station structure during the performance of
the experiment in this mode.
Expected benefits:
The results are expected to provide better insight to the mechanisms of altered
working capacity particularly at early stages of space adaptation. Such understanding
may provide for the development of effective countermeasures. The results will
contribute to the better understanding of adaptation processes that take place in
spatial perception in weightlessness. The development of a novel
electrophysiological paradigm may provide a tool for testing spatial cognition altered
in pathological conditions. The result will provide a better understanding of
neurophysiological changes occurring in normal aging.
It is expected that indications about the mechanisms involved in the altered
behaviour in weightlessness will be provided and to localise the crucial parts of the
cerebral cortex specifically involved.
EEG responses will be measured in response to different sensory stimuli in different
gravity conditions. These sensory stimuli will be a priori neutral (checkerboard pattern
reversals, etc.) or suspected of being linked to the gravitational context in which the
execution of the different functional tasks will be performed. The hypothesis is that
patterns of EEG activity will remain unchanged for the neutral stimuli in 0g, while
stimuli that require cognitive processing that is potentially linked to graviceptor
sensory information or to the physical constraints imposed by gravity will be
significantly altered in weightlessness.
Visual spatial reference information is expected to have a more pronounced effect on
electrophysiological and behavioural measures of attention in weightlessness,
antiorthostatic and supine positions.
Data analysis is ongoing.
Since a small number of subjects (n=5) participated in this experiment, generalisation
and physiological inference of the results is a challenge. A major finding so far is a
reinforcement of cortical activation in alpha brain rhythms during a visual-attention
process during microgravity. In-Depth study of this effect in ongoing. The exploration
of other important circumstantial evidences and their potential pertinence (notably
alteration of ocular movements and its cortical mechanisms) is on its way.
M. Lipshits, J. McIntyre, (1999), "Gravity affects the preferred vertical and horizontal in
visual perception of orientation", NeuroReport, 10: 1085-1089.
L. Balázs, I. Czigler, A. Grosz, M. Emri, P. Mikecz, S. Szakáll, L. Tron, (2005),
"Environmental challenge impairs prefrontal brain functions", Journal of Gravitational
Physiology, Vol 12(1), P31-P32.
M. Lipshits, A. Bengoetxea, G. Cheron, J. Cheron, (2005), "Two reference frames for
visual perception in two gravity conditions", Perception, 34, pp. 545- 555.
G. Cheron, A. Leroy, C. De Saedeleer, A. Bengoetxea, M. Lipshits, A. Cebolla, L.
Servais, B. Dan, A. Berthoz, J. McIntyre, (2006), "Effect of gravity on human
spontaneous 10- Hz electroencephalographic oscillations during the arrest reaction",
Brain Research, 1121, 1, pp. 104-116.
A. Leroy, C. De Saedeleer, A. Bengoetxea, A. Cebolla, F. Leurs, B. Dan, A. Berthoz, J.
McIntyre, G. Cheron, (2007), "Mu and alpha EEG rhythms during the arrest reaction in
microgravity", Microgravity Science and Technology, pp. XIX-2.
G. Cheron, A.M. Cebolla, M. Petieau, A. Bengoetxea, E. Palmero-Soler, A. Leroy, B.
Dan, (2009), "Adaptive changes of rhythmic EEG oscillations in space implications for
brain-machine interface applications", International Review of Neurobiology, 86, pp.
A.M. Cebolla, E. Palmero-Soler, B. Dan, G. Cheron, (2011), "Frontal phasic and
oscillatory generators of the N30 somatosensory evoked potential", Neuroimage, 54, 2,
pp. 1297-1306.
T. Hoellinger, M. Petieau, M. Duvinage, T. Castermans, K. Seetharaman, A.M. Cebolla,
A. Bengoetxea, Y. Ivanenko, B. Dan, G. Cheron, (2013), "Biological oscillations for
learning walking coordination: dynamic recurrent neural network functionally models
physiological central pattern generator", Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience, 7,
C. De Saedeleer, M. Vidal, M. Lipshits, A. Bengoetxea, A.M. Cebolla, A. Berthoz, G.
Cheron, J. McIntyre, (2013), "Weightlessness alters up/down asymmetries in the
perception of self-motion", Experimental Brain Research, 226, 1, pp. 95-106.
A.M. Cebolla, E. Palmero-Soler, B. Dan, G. Cheron, (2014), "Modulation of the N30
generators of the somatosensory evoked potentials by the mirror neuron system",
Neuroimage, 95, doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.03.039, pp. 48-60.
G. Cheron, A. Leroy, E. Palmero-Soler, C. De Saedeleer, A. Bengoetxea, A.M. Cebolla,
M. Vidal, B. Dan, A. Berthoz, J. McIntyre, (2014), "Gravity influences top-down signals
in visual processing", PLoS One, 9, 1, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0082371, pp. e82371.
click on items to display
Frank De Winne performing
ISS030-E-116907 (13
February 2012) Wearing an
Electroencephalogram (EEG)
electrode cap, European Space
Agency astronaut Andre
Kuipers, Expedition 30 flight
engineer, performs a
NeuroSpat science session in
the Columbus laboratory of
the International Space
Station. NeuroSpat
investigates the ways in which
crew members' three-
dimensional visual & space
perception is affected by long-
duration stays in
weightlessness. Credit:
ISS030-E-116908 (13
February 2012) Wearing an
Electroencephalogram (EEG)
electrode cap, European Space
Agency astronaut Andre
Kuipers, Expedition 30 flight
engineer, performs a
NeuroSpat science session in
the Columbus laboratory of
the International Space
Station. NeuroSpat
investigates the ways in which
crew members' three-
dimensional visual & space
perception is affected by long-
duration stays in
weightlessness. Credit:
Paolo Nespoli in December
2010 in the European
Columbus laboratory, setting
up the Neurospat experiment.
Neurospat measures the effect
of Gravitational Context on
EEG Dynamics. It is a study
of spatial cognition, novelty
processing and sensorimotor
integration, composed of two
principal experimental tasks:
visual orientation and
visuomotor tracking, plus
additional, standardized
electroencephalogram (EEG)
tasks performed as a means of
assessing general effects of the
space station environment on
EEG signals.
ISS026-E-012919 (20
December 2010) European
Space Agency astronaut Paolo
Nespoli, Expedition 26 flight
engineer, moves the Neurospat
hardware (including light
shield and frame) used for the
Bodies in the Space
Environment (BISE)
experiment, in the Columbus
Module aboard the
International Space Station.
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Full-text available
The processing and storage of visual information concerning the orientation of objects in space is carried out in anisotropic reference frames in which all orientations are not treated equally. The perceptual anisotropies, and the implicit reference frames that they define, are evidenced by the observation of 'oblique effects' in which performance on a given perceptual task is better for horizontally and vertically oriented stimuli. The question remains how the preferred horizontal and vertical reference frames are defined. In these experiments cosmonaut subjects reproduced the remembered orientation of a visual stimulus in 1g (on the ground) and in 0g, both attached to a chair and while free-floating within the International Space Station. Results show that while the remembered orientation of a visual stimulus may be stored in a multimodal reference frame that includes gravity, an egocentric reference is sufficient to elicit the oblique effect when all gravitational and haptic cues are absent.