Neuroplasticity in F16 fighter jet pilots

Eline Radstake, Steven Jillings, Steven Laureys, Athena Demertzi, Stefan Sunaert, Angelique Van Ombergen, Floris L. Wuyts

    Research outputpeer-review


    Exposure to altered g-levels causes unusual sensorimotor demands that must be dealt with by the brain. This study aimed to investigate whether fighter pilots, who are exposed to frequent g-level transitions and high g-levels, show differential functional characteristics compared to matched controls, indicative of neuroplasticity. We acquired resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data to assess brain functional connectivity (FC) changes with increasing flight experience in pilots and to assess differences in FC between pilots and controls. We performed whole-brain exploratory and region-of-interest (ROI) analyses, with the right parietal operculum 2 (OP2) and the right angular gyrus (AG) as ROIs. Our results show positive correlations with flight experience in the left inferior and right middle frontal gyri, and in the right temporal pole. Negative correlations were observed in primary sensorimotor regions. We found decreased whole-brain functional connectivity of the left inferior frontal gyrus in fighter pilots compared to controls and this cluster showed decreased functional connectivity with the medial superior frontal gyrus. Functional connectivity increased between the right parietal operculum 2 and the left visual cortex, and between the right and left angular gyrus in pilots compared to controls. These findings suggest altered motor, vestibular, and multisensory processing in the brains of fighter pilots, possibly reflecting coping strategies to altered sensorimotor demands during flight. Altered functional connectivity in frontal areas may reflect adaptive cognitive strategies to cope with challenging conditions during flight. These findings provide novel insights into brain functional characteristics of fighter pilots, which may be of interest to humans traveling to space.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number1082166
    Number of pages11
    JournalFrontiers in Physiology
    StatePublished - 15 Feb 2023

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Physiology (medical)
    • Physiology

    Cite this