Scientists discover a “consciousness switch” in the brain that activates waking up when it is zapped with electricity and “could even get people out of comas”
- Brain area called the central lateral thalamus found to activate consciousness
- Electrode with 50Hz electricity awoke monkeys from general anesthesia
- When the electricity was off, the monkey went back to sleep immediately
- Scientists hope it can be applied to people and help people come out of comas
A small brain area has been discovered that acts as a switch to activate and deactivate consciousness.
This area, called the central lateral thalamus, is located deep in the brain and appeared to control consciousness when activated with electricity.
It was tested in macaques and the region is also present in people. It is hoped that the technology can be adapted to get people out of comas.
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A small brain area has been discovered that acts as a switch to activate and deactivate consciousness (photo). This area, called the central lateral thalamus, is located deep in the brain and was found to activate consciousness when activated with electricity
WHAT IS Awareness?
Awareness is everything that you experience.
But it remains one of the great mysteries of science.
Its existence is irrefutable because every person can confirm it.
However, it is extremely difficult to prove or quantify.
Consciousness includes everything that it is to exist and to be human.
There are seven theories about what makes consciousness something that focuses on two important aspects, a so-called simple problem and a difficult problem.
The easy problem is the underlying biological processes that regulate perception, memory and attention.
The hard problem is being discussed fiercely. Even its existence is a subject of unrest among academics.
This attempts to explain why there is a subjective, first person aspect of consciousness.
For example, why does banging with our funny bone hurt? Why don’t our bodies simply register the physical damage?
This question is exactly what science is struggling with.
Anesthetized monkeys had an electrode in their brains that, when zapping with electricity, turn their minds on and alert them.
When it was turned off, the primates immediately went back to sleep.
Researchers calmed macaques and assessed their brain activity while they slept.
Yuri Saalmann, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, said: “Our electrodes have a very different design [to most].
‘They are much more tailored to the shape of the structure in the brain that we want to stimulate.
“They also better mimic the electrical activity of a healthy, normal system.”
The researchers limited potential targets for a so-called consciousness shift by studying the brains of awake, sleeping and sedated animals.
Sharpened imaging techniques on the central lateral thalamus as the most likely location for consciousness control.
Researchers tested the theory by placing electrodes in the rain of two stunned macaques.
Their thalamus was exposed to electricity with a frequency of 50 Hz.
“We discovered that when we stimulated this small brain area, we could wake the animals and restore all the neural activity that you would normally see during vigilance in the cortex,” says Dr. Saalmann.
And as soon as the electricity stopped flowing, the stunned macaques immediately went back to sleep.
Their alertness during this induced period of consciousness was tested to see how they reacted.
A series of beeps was played through speakers with other random sounds alternated.
The animals reacted in the same way that waking animals would respond.
Sharpened imaging techniques on the central lateral thalamus as the most likely location for consciousness control. Researchers used electrodes to stimulate the region with a frequency of 50 Hz and to activate consciousness
“The main motivation for this research is to help people with consciousness disorders lead a better life,” said lead author Michelle Redinbaugh, a graduate student in the Psychology Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
“We must begin by understanding the minimal mechanism that is necessary or sufficient for consciousness so that the right part of the brain can be clinically targeted.”
“There are many exciting implications for this work,” she says.
‘It is possible that we can use this kind of deep brain stimulating electrodes to get people out of comas.
“Our findings can also be useful for developing new ways to monitor patients under clinical anesthesia to ensure that they are safely unconscious.”
The research is published in the journal neuron.