• Sun. Nov 19th, 2023

Investigating the Neuroplastic Changes in Fighter Pilots: A Study on the Effects of G-Levels on Brain Functionality


Feb 16, 2023
An F-15E Strike Eagle deploys countermeasure flares Nov. 12, 2008 over Afghanistan. The aircraft was assigned to the 391st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon)

Recent studies have shown that exposure to altered g-levels can result in unusual sensorimotor demands that must be processed by the brain. To investigate the potential changes in brain functionality, a group of researchers conducted a study on fighter pilots, who are frequently exposed to g-level transitions and high g-levels. The study aimed to determine if fighter pilots show different functional characteristics compared to a control group and if so, whether these changes could be indicative of neuroplasticity.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change and adapt in response to new experiences and environmental stimuli. This process of change can involve the formation of new neural connections, changes in the strength of existing connections, and the re-organization of neural networks.

G-forces, also known as gravitational forces, are units of acceleration that measure the effects of gravity on an object. In the context of aviation and space travel, g-forces refer to the forces that act on a pilot or astronaut during high-speed maneuvers, such as turns, loops, or rapid changes in altitude. These forces can cause significant physical and physiological stress on the body, including changes in blood flow, vision, hearing, and other sensory processes.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to study the connections between different parts of the brain in both fighter pilots and a control group. They looked at changes in these connections over time in the pilots, and compared them to the connections in the control group. The study focused on two specific areas of the brain, called the right parietal operculum 2 and the right angular gyrus.

The results of the study showed that as the flight experience of fighter pilots increased, certain areas of their brain became more active, such as the left inferior and right middle frontal gyri and the right temporal pole. However, the study also found that other areas, responsible for movement and sensation, had less activity. The left inferior frontal gyrus, which is involved in decision making and problem solving, showed less communication with other brain regions in fighter pilots compared to the control group, and its communication with the medial superior frontal gyrus, which is involved in higher cognitive functions, was also decreased.

Some of the results of the study do appear to be somewhat conflicting, as on one hand, negative correlations were observed in primary sensorimotor regions, which may suggest decreased function in these areas, while on the other hand, increased functional connectivity was observed between certain brain regions in pilots compared to controls. These conflicting findings suggest that the effects of exposure to altered g-levels on the brain are complex and may involve both decreases and increases in brain function in different regions. It’s important to note that this study is limited in that it was performed on a small sample of pilots and further research is needed to fully understand the effects of exposure to altered g-levels on the brain.

The findings of this study suggest that exposure to frequent changes in g-levels experienced by fighter pilots could lead to changes in the way the brain processes motor, vestibular, and multisensory information. The new insights into the brain functional characteristics of fighter pilots are important for understanding the potential impact of exposure to altered g-levels especially as it may be relevant to humans traveling into space in the future.