Brain Study: Consciousness Shut Off, Turned On in Female Patient

Image: Brain Study: Consciousness Shut Off, Turned On in Female Patient Brain Anatomy - Occipital lobe - Medical imaging.

Monday, 07 Jul 2014 08:26 PM

By Morgan Chilson

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Researchers studying the brain were able to successfully switch off the consciousness of a woman by using electrical stimulation.

Although the study published recently in the journal Epilepsy and Behavior focused only on one patient, the researchers found they could turn off the woman’s consciousness without her going to sleep, CBS News said.

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Researchers have wondered for decades if a snap of electricity could put parts of the brain out of action, but despite numerous studies, scientists weren’t, until now, able to turn off consciousness.

Researchers were working with a 54-year-old woman with epilepsy who had electrodes implanted in her brain.

As they worked to determine the location of her seizures, they found that stimulating the claustrum, a layer of neutrons near the center of the brain, seemed to disrupt consciousness. They confirmed she was unconscious by asking her to say a word or snap her fingers.

“They theorized that if the stimulation was simply disrupting those functions, she would have stopped moving and speaking immediately,” CBS said. “Instead the researchers noticed that her motor and speech abilities tapered off slowly.”

Researcher Mohamad Koubeissi told New Scientist that the claustrum may hold a significant role in triggering conscious experience.

"I would liken it to a car," he said. "A car on the road has many parts that facilitate its movement – the gas, the transmission, the engine – but there's only one spot where you turn the key and it all switches on and works together. So while consciousness is a complicated process created via many structures and networks – we may have found the key."

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