Antarctic expedition: stress response in extreme living conditions
Understanding how a human being reacts to long periods of isolation in extreme living conditions, such as long spaceflights or in terrestrial environments characterized by extraordinary altitudes and climatic conditions, could provide us information on our resilience to stress and our ability to adapt to adverse conditions, in order to identify suitable individuals for space missions to Mars.
A positive view of self and others (secure attachment style), could facilitate individual resilience under extreme environmental and social conditions. This hypothesis has been tested and evaluated through multidisciplinary approaches in a prestigious research project coordinated by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, in collaboration with the EBRI Rita Levi-Montalcini Foundation, the Sapienza University of Rome and the Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate of the National Research Council (CNR-ISAC).
The study, recently published in the prestigious journal Translational Psychiatry (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-020-00869-4), focused on the psycho-physiological responses in 13 volunteers who remained in isolation for 12 months in an Italian-French research station located in Concordia, in Antarctica, at an altitude of over 3000 m above sea level, to observe the impact of extreme environmental and psychosocial conditions on cognitive functions, immune response and stress. EBRI researchers Mara D'Onofrio, head of the Genomics Facility, Ivan Arisi, head of the Bioinformatics Facility and Rossella Brandi, researcher with expertise in molecular biology and genomics, contributed to this project entitled "Neurophysiology and neuropsychology of an expedition Antarctica at Concordia station”, sponsored by the National Research Program in Antarctica, with the transcriptomics analysis, aimed at measuring thousands of genes simultaneously, before, during and after the mission. The EBRI team conducted statistical analyzes, correlating these results to the different physiological variables and the levels of cortisol (stress hormone).
The results of the research showed that particularly stressful environmental and social conditions (isolation, long periods of darkness, extreme temperatures or altitudes, distance from home) lead to fluctuations in the physiological and behavioral parameters and an insecure attachment style in participants, that is, less inclined to trust and "team up" with the other participants of expedition.
In contrast, participants with a secure attachment style showed better behavioral and physiological response to stress.
These results could prove important to identify individuals with specific personality traits suitable for space missions.