Selective skin sensitivity changes and sensory reweighting following short-duration space flight
Lowrey, Catherine R., et al. (2014). "Selective skin sensitivity changes and sensory reweighting following short-duration space flight." 116 6: 683-692
Skin sensory input from the foot soles is coupled with vestibular input to facilitate body orientation in a gravitational environment. Anecdotal observations suggest that foot sole skin becomes hypersensitive following space flight. The veritable level of skin sensitivity and its impact on postural disequilibrium observed post space flight have not been documented. Skin sensitivity of astronauts (n = 11) was measured as vibration perception at the great toe, fifth metatarsal and heel. Frequencies targeted four classes of receptors: 3 and 25 Hz for slow-adapting (SA) receptors and 60 and 250 Hz for fast-adapting (FA) receptors. Data were collected pre– and post–space flight. We hypothesized that skin sensitivity would increase post–space flight and correlate to balance measures. Decreased skin sensitivity was found on landing day at 3 and 25 Hz on the great toe. Hypersensitivity was found for a subset of astronauts (n = 6) with significantly increased sensitivity to 250 Hz at the heel. This subset displayed a greater reduction in computerized dynamic posturography (CDP) equilibrium (EQ) scores (−54%) on landing vs. non-hypersensitive participants (−11%). Observed hyposensitivity of SA (pressure) receptors may indicate a strategy to reduce pressure input during periods of unloading. Hypersensitivity of FAs coupled with reduced EQ scores may reflect targeted sensory reweighting. Altered gravito-inertial environments reduce vestibular function in balance control which may trigger increased weighting of FAs (that signal foot contact, slips). Understanding modulations to skin sensitivity has translational implications for mitigating postural disequilibrium following space flight and for on-Earth preventative strategies for imbalance in older adults.