The brain network driving changes in consciousness

Activity of brain network linked to changes in connectedness for both sleep and anesthesia

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Credit: Scheinin et al., JNeurosci 2020

The loss and return of consciousness is linked to the same network of brain regions for both sleep and anesthesia, according to new research published in JNeurosci.

The biological basis of consciousness has confounded scientists for centuries. Our experimental techniques falter, as the effects of sleep and anesthetic drugs alter brain activity beyond changes in consciousness. In addition, behavior does not always reveal someone’s state of consciousness. An unresponsive person might still be aware of their surroundings (connected), or unaware but still experiencing their internal world (disconnected).

Scheinin et al. sought networks associated with human consciousness by measuring the brain activity of adult males with PET as they fell asleep and went under anesthesia. The research team woke participants mid-experiment to interview them and confirm their state of connectedness. Changes in connectedness corresponded to the activity of a network comprised of regions deep inside the brain: the thalamus, anterior and posterior cingulate cortex, and angular gyri. These regions exhibited less blood flow when a participant lost connectedness and more blood flow when they regained it. The pattern held true for both sleep and anesthesia, indicating the changes corresponded to connectedness rather than the effects of sleep or drugs, and that the network may be imperative for human consciousness.

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Manuscript title: Foundations of Human Consciousness: Imaging the Twilight Zone

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience’s first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors’ changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world’s largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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Related Journal Article

http://dx.doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0775-20.2020

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