High-flying pilots at increased risk of brain lesions

August 19, 2013, American Academy of Neurology

A new study suggests that pilots who fly at high altitudes may be at an increased risk for brain lesions. The study is published in the August 20, 2013, print issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, 102 U-2 United States Air Force pilots and 91 non-pilots between the ages of 26 and 50 underwent MRI brain scans. The scans measured the amount of , or tiny associated with in other neurological diseases. The groups were matched for age, education and .

"Pilots who fly at altitudes above 18,000 feet are at risk for decompression sickness, a condition where gas or atmospheric pressure reaches lower levels than those within body tissues and forms bubbles," said study author Stephen McGuire, MD, with the University of Texas in San Antonio, the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. "The risk for decompression sickness among Air Force pilots has tripled from 2006, probably due to more frequent and longer periods of exposure for pilots. To date however, we have been unable to demonstrate any permanent clinical neurocognitive or memory decline."

Symptoms affecting the brain that sometimes accompany decompression sickness include slowed thought processes, confusion, unresponsiveness and permanent .

The study found that pilots had nearly four times the volume and three times the number of brain lesions as non-pilots. The results were the same whether or not the pilots had a history of symptoms of decompression sickness.

The research also found that while the lesions in non-pilots were mainly found in the frontal white matter, as occurs in normal aging, lesions in the pilots were evenly distributed throughout the brain.

"These results may be valuable in assessing risk for occupations that include high-altitude mountain climbing, deep sea diving and high-altitude flying," McGuire said.

Explore further: Automation in the air dulls pilot skill

Related Stories

Automation in the air dulls pilot skill

August 30, 2011
(AP) -- Safety and industry officials worry that there will be more deadly airline accidents traced to pilots who have lost their hands-on instincts as planes become ever more reliant on automation to navigate crowded skies.

New technology to measure radiation exposure in pilots

July 17, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from the University of Wollongong have developed a unique device that measures how much radiation pilots and astronauts are exposed to.

'Risky' stroke prevention procedure may be safe in some patients

July 19, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A major study published today in the Lancet Neurology, funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Stroke Association, found that stenting in the carotid artery (in the neck) is as safe as carotid ...

Brain imaging after mild head injury/concussion can show lesions, study finds

March 12, 2013
Brain imaging soon after mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) or mild concussion can detect tiny lesions that may eventually provide a target for treating people with mTBI, according to a study released today and that will ...

Recommended for you

Research reveals atomic-level changes in ALS-linked protein

January 18, 2018
For the first time, researchers have described atom-by-atom changes in a family of proteins linked to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a group of brain disorders known as frontotemporal dementia and degenerative diseases ...

Fragile X finding shows normal neurons that interact poorly

January 18, 2018
Neurons in mice afflicted with the genetic defect that causes Fragile X syndrome (FXS) appear similar to those in healthy mice, but these neurons fail to interact normally, resulting in the long-known cognitive impairments, ...

How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

January 17, 2018
Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus ...

Recording a thought's fleeting trip through the brain

January 17, 2018
University of California, Berkeley neuroscientists have tracked the progress of a thought through the brain, showing clearly how the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain coordinates activity to help us act in response ...

Midbrain 'start neurons' control whether we walk or run

January 17, 2018
Locomotion comprises the most fundamental movements we perform. It is a complex sequence from initiating the first step, to stopping when we reach our goal. At the same time, locomotion is executed at different speeds to ...

A 'touching sight': How babies' brains process touch builds foundations for learning

January 16, 2018
Touch is the first of the five senses to develop, yet scientists know far less about the baby's brain response to touch than to, say, the sight of mom's face, or the sound of her voice.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tom_Hennessy
not rated yet Aug 20, 2013
One might consider this to be a 'human model of polycythemia'.
"The polycythemic process of subjects with anoxia caused by a low pressure environment is due to a greater blood formation by the hematopoietic organs."

Pilots are susceptible to the emboli forming polycythemic process. Emboli contain extravasated blood. Extravasated blood contains iron.
"Decompartmentalization of iron from extravasated hemoglobin"

Targeting the iron from the extravasated blood has been proposed.
"Brain microbleeds (BMB)"
"As expected by theory, measurements of geometric features in phase images correlated with lesion iron content"
"Local accumulations of hemosiderin (hemosiderosis) occur regularly around areas of bruising and hemorrhage".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.