New research adds to understanding of conscious awareness

Two new studies by faculty at Georgetown University Medical Center and colleagues shed new light on the brain mechanisms underlying conscious awareness. The studies are published in the current issue of the journal Neurology.

"Despite many advances in our understanding of the brain, the mechanisms of conscious awareness are still poorly understood," said Kimford J. Meador, MD, professor and chair of neurology at Georgetown University Medical Center and the senior author of both articles. "As our understanding of the processes underlying conciousness advances, so will our ability to help patients suffering from a variety of neural impairments."

The first article, "Gamma coherence and conscious perception," adds to the growing body of knowledge about the role of brain waves, or electrical pulses in the brain. Gamma waves are fast electrical waves that have been hypothesized to be involved in conscious perception. However, scientists still do not fully understand their role.

In this study, researchers looked at electrical activity from a grid of electrodes implanted in the brains of six patients who were undergoing surgery to treat their epileptic seizures. The implantation was part of a medical procedure that is routinely conducted before brain surgery in some patients to determine the precise location in the brain causing the seizures.

While the electrodes were implanted, researchers used this opportunity to study how the patients' brains responded to a painless stimulus to one of their fingers. Although the patients were conscious each time they received the stimulus, they did not always notice it, even though the stimuli were identical. The initial electrical response of the brain was similar for both the perceived and non-perceived stimuli, but only the perceived stimuli were associated with synchronized gamma waves in the hand sensory region. The results suggest that synchronized fast neural activity in the sensory area may be ne

Contact: Elizabeth McDonald
Georgetown University Medical Center

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