Scientists Discover Specific Area in Brain Playing Key Role in Enabling Consciousness

Saturday, February 15, 2020 - 13:42

Researchers have recently identified that a specific area in the brain, the central lateral thalamus, appears to play a key role in enabling consciousness.

According to the Science Daily report, Activation of the central lateral thalamus and deep layers of the cerebral cortex drives pathways in the brain that carry information between the parietal and frontal lobe in the brain, the study suggests.

This brain circuit works as a sort-of “engine for consciousness,” the researchers say, enabling conscious thought and feeling in primates.

To zero in on this brain circuit, a scientific team put macaque monkeys under anesthesia, then stimulated different parts of their brain with electrodes at a frequency of 50 Hertz.

Essentially, they zapped different areas of the brain and observed how the monkeys responded. When the central lateral thalamus was stimulated, the monkeys woke up and their brain function resumed.

"We decided to go beyond the classical approach of recording from one area at a time," says senior author Yuri Saalmann, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "We recorded from multiple areas at the same time to see how the entire network behaves."

“Science doesn’t often leave opportunity for exhilaration, but that’s what that moment was like for those of us who were in the room,” co-author Michelle Redinbaugh, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, tells Inverse.

While the study wasn't conducted on humans, Redinbaugh and her colleagues do suggest that researching the central lateral thalamus might lead to new therapies for people dealing with brain traumas, injuries, or disorders of consciousness.

This research was published Wednesday in the journal Neuron.

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