The team believes the discovery could help develop therapies for comatose patients and monitor people who are under anesthesia.
An innovative study with monkeys provides some clues about the location of consciousness in their brains.
In the experiment, the team stimulated the lateral thalamus of anesthetized monkeys, making them instantly awake and alert.
Neuroscientists had previously classified the central lateral thalamus as one of the neural correlates of consciousness, but this research lends more credibility to the claim.
“We found that when we stimulated this tiny little brain area, we could wake the animals up and reinstate all the neural activity that you’d normally see in the cortex during wakefulness. They acted as if they were awake. When we turned off the stimulation, the animals went back to being unconscious,” said Yuri Saalmann, author of the research, in a statement.
It is important to understand that, in the context of the study, “consciousness” refers to being awake.
“We have to start by understanding the minimum mechanism that is necessary or sufficient for consciousness, so that the correct part of the brain can be targeted clinically”, said Michelle Redinbaugh, lead author of the article, published in Neuron.
The team, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, believes the results may help develop therapies for comatose human patients.
Additionally, it can be used to monitor who is under clinical anesthesia, ensuring that they are safely unconscious.
“Consciousness is unlikely to be specific to a location in the brain. But the main motivation for this research is to help people with disorders of consciousness to live better lives,” noted Redinbaugh.