Neurosurgeons finds key that turns consciousness on and off

Posted on July 9, 2014

The 54-year-old epilepsy patient - her name remains concealed to protect her privacy - was lying on the operating table while surgeons explored inside her brain with electrodes. They were looking for the source of her epileptic seizures. Suddenly, after they applied electricity to a small region, buried deep, near the front of the brain, the woman froze and her eyes went blank. She was awake, but entirely unresponsive.

Intrigued by the woman's response to the stimulation of this specific brain region, the surgeons investigated further. Ten further stimulations, and on every occasion zapping the claustrum had the same effect. By contrast, zapping an area just 2.7mm away did not.

The precise area the surgeons had zapped included a sliver of tissue known as the claustrum, which is part of a network that supports awareness.

Caution is required - after all, this is a single case study, and the patient in question was missing part of one hippocampus, removed during earlier treatment for epilepsy. Nonetheless this is an intriguing finding.

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Source material from British Psychological Society

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