Scientists Discover the Brain Part that Turns off Consciousness

Published Date : Jul 10, 2014

In the first of its kind experiment, researchers have been able in successfully switching off the state of unconsciousness in a woman by giving electric stimulations to a single area of her brain.

What follows from the experiment is the discovery of the area that might be responsible in making a person unconscious – a state of brain disparity.

This area is called the claustrum, a thin, almost a sheet-like area located deep inside the brain. A research team led by Mohamad Koubeissi and his colleagues at the George Washington University, Washington DC undertook this research in which the clasutrum of a woman was stimulated to switch her consciousness on and off.

The women who underwent the experiments is actually an epileptic patient and the team was recording signals from the various parts of the brain using deep brain electrodes to find out the root cause of her seizures.

When the electrode was positioned next to the women’s claustrum, zapping it and the area around it with high frequency electricity, the women was recorded as having lost her consciousness. During this, the woman stopped speaking and gazed blankly into space. Her breathing also slowed and she did not respond to visual or auditory commands.

As soon as the stimulation ended, the woman gained back her consciousness but had no memory of the event. The same response continued for the next two days of experiments.

To confirm that the experiment was affecting the woman’s consciousness rather not only her ability to move or to speak, the team asked her to repeat a particular word or keep snapping her fingers while the experiment took place.

As soon as the experiment started, the woman gradually spoke more quietly and snapped her fingers more slowly. If the stimulation had disturbed an area in the brain responsible for speech or movement, the women would have stopped speaking or moving immediately.

Also, the lack of any epileptic brain activity during or after the experiment suggests that the result was not a side-effect of seizures.