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How Scientists are Mapping the Brain

How Scientists are Mapping the Brain by Researching the Mysteries behind Anesthesia – Part 2

In this two part series, we are exploring what happens when the brain is put under anesthesia.

Data = Knowledge

In addition to utilising an electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor the electrical activity in the brain, scientists are also getting a visual on what’s happening inside the anesthetised brain by use of an fMRI machine. This helps them to measure the blood flow changes in altering neural activities.

Scientists have discovered a way to synchronously record EEG readings and fMRI scan measurements at the moment that patients lose consciousness through anesthetisation. They are now correlating the EEG recordings and fMRI data to produce some very interesting results.

The more they scale down, the more they discover

There is another study being conducted with epilepsy subjects who have had brain electrodes implanted so that their seizures can be located and recorded. The subjects that have undergone surgery to remove the affected parts of their brains are monitored for their brain wave activity, which provides a much higher resolution of what’s going on inside their brains than either an EEG or an fMRI can produce, which gives researchers an even more in depth look at what happens during anesthesia on a cellular level. This study is going to allow researchers to document exactly how brain activity changes when it slips in and out of consciousness.

Consciousness is a dirty word

The word itself, “consciousness” is still an ambiguous term, and is therefore also a controversial one among neuroscientists. Some prefer to use the term “altered states of arousal” when referring to the lack of brain activity due to sleep, anesthesia, meditation, coma, or hypnosis. They are hoping that a better understanding of what happens within the brain while it’s asleep will provide them a better understanding of what consciousness actually is.

Following the patterns

Anesthesiologists have observed patterns that lend support to the theory that consciousness is the result of large interconnected networks of the brain, which serve to combine and integrate individual pieces of information. Different kinds of drugs produce different effects on brain functions due to their different chemical structures and molecular mechanisms.

The resulting theory may not seem too mind blowing, but its implications are staggering

Researchers believe that consciousness can be disrupted in various ways because of the brain’s complex interactions across various regions and activities. The more in depth they map out how and when different brain regions stop communicating, the more pieces to the puzzle of human consciousness will be discovered.

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