Scientists unveil brain area involved in ‘alert status’ control

September 15th, 2009 - 11:48 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, September 15 (ANI): Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have gained fresh insights into how anaesthesia and anaesthesia-like states are controlled in the brain, opening the door to possible new future treatments of various states of loss of consciousness, such as reversible coma.

Marshall Devor, the Cecile and Seymour Alpert Professor of Pain Research, graduate student Ruth Abulafia and research associate Dr. Vladimir Zalkind say that they have basically discovered a brain area that participates in the control of “alert status”.

Their findings suggest that a small group of neurons near the base of the brain, in the mesopontine tegmentum, has executive control over the alert status of the entire cerebrum and spinal cord, and can generate loss of pain sensation, postural collapse, and loss of consciousness through specific neural circuitry.They came to this conclusion after observing that microinjection of tiny quantities of certain anaesthetic drugs into this newly discovered “centre of consciousness” in laboratory rats induced a profound suppressive effect on the activity of the cerebral cortex.The researchers admit that it is not certain that their findings will translate reliably from rats to man.

They, however, insist that in case their findings do replicate in man, the new knowledge could contribute to the ability of medical science to treat disorders of consciousness and its loss, such as insomnia, excessive sleepiness and even coma.

Perhaps by direct electrical stimulation of the cells in question, it might prove possible to arouse a patient from coma, say the researchers.

They further say that the discovery of a specific cluster of neurons that control the brain’s state of consciousness can be expected to lead to the beginnings of an understanding of the actual wiring diagram that permits a biological machine, the brain, to be conscious.

A research article describing their study has been published in the Journal of Neuroscience. (ANI)

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