A new study from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) reveals, for the first time, what happens inside the brain as patients lose consciousness during anesthesia. By monitoring brain activity as patients were given a common anesthetic, the researchers were able to identify a distinctive brain activity pattern that marked the loss of consciousness. This pattern, characterized by very slow oscillation, corresponds to a breakdown of communication between different brain regions, each of which experiences short bursts of activity interrupted by longer silences.
“Within a small area, things can look pretty normal, but because of this periodic silencing, everything gets interrupted every few hundred milliseconds, and that prevents any communication,” says Laura Lewis, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (BCS) and one of the lead authors of a paper describing the findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week. This pattern may help anesthesiologists to better monitor patients as they receive anesthesia, preventing rare cases where patients awaken during surgery or stop breathing after excessive doses of anesthesia drugs. Continue reading the article on MITnews.