Characterizing Facial Deformation for Assessing Psychoneuroimmunological Interactions Affecting Behavioral Health in Spaceflight

Daniel Peters, BA

Massachusetts General Hospital – Clinical Research Intern

Scientific Abstract

INTRODUCTION: Visible and persistent signs of microgravity-induced cephalad fluid shift are facial edema and deformation that consequently reduce facial expressiveness and capacity to convey non-verbal affective cues. Any changes or limitations in this capacity during spaceflight could exacerbate the negative communication or psychological effects of isolation and confinement, contributing to the risk of behavioral or psychiatric disorders. 

METHODS: Aim 1: Quantify the magnitude and spatial distribution of facial deformation associated with various degrees of head down-tilt (HDT) spaceflight analog. will generate a database of high-definition (HD) front-facing facial photographs and facial volume heat-maps from n=50 healthy, astronaut-like individuals at the following tilts: +90, 50 HUT, 0(supine), -10 HDT, 10 HUT and return to Supine. Aim 2: Investigate the relationship between facial deformation and perceived emotional valence from face photographs at varying degrees of HDT. and Aim 3: Investigate the relationship between perceived emotional valence and immune function before and after exposure to a realistic mission stressor (HERA 45-day mission) will be explored through further experimentation. 

RESULTS: We have developed a pipeline for quantifying facial edema in tilted volunteers. With this approach we are able to quantify global net-volume changes, and localized changes. The preliminary data shows a persistent overall increase in the facial volume with increase in HDT angle. The slope of this volume function is not purely linear, with the majority of the volume shift occurring in the earlier changes in head angle, particularly between 50 deg Head-Up-Tilt and Supine (0.34 % change from seated to 1.474%). 

CONCLUSIONS: Findings from this study will directly contribute to identification of key threats to behavioral health, development of measures for monitoring behavioral health, and understanding interactions between immune, psychological and perceptual factors in behavioral health associated with long duration missions. 

research Areas


Daniel Peters, BA, Max Schenkel1, Brian M. White1, MS, Jona Cumani1, BA, Quang Zhang, PhD, Guillaume Spielmann, PhD, Gary E. Strangman, PhD, V. Ivkovic, PhD

Principal Investigator

Vladimir Ivkovic, PhD