Nerve Stimulation Restores Consciousness in

Previously Vegetative Individual

By Bradley Fox, ‘21

Source: Wikimedia CommonsCaption: New research shows that Vagus Nerve Stimulation- a treatment already used for epilepsy and depression- can increase consciousness in patients who had previously been in a vegetative state.

More than 15 years ago, a 35-year-old man was involved in a near-fatal car accident that left him in a vegetative state. Since then, the man has been without improvement, persistently bound in a crippling state of cognitive unconsciousness. With the help a new research study, however– as reported in Current Biology on September 25 th (1)- the man is beginning to regain consciousness through a process that “challenges the general belief that disorders of consciousness that persist for longer than 12 months are irreversible” (2).

The study featured the stimulation of the Vagus Nerve, a long cranial nerve connecting the brain to many other parts of the body that is popular for its role in human alertness (1, 2). After one month of Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), the 35-year-old subject involved in the study showed significant signs of increased brain activity, observed by his newly acquired ability to follow an object with his eyes and turn his head when asked (1).

“Brain plasticity and brain repair are still possible even when hope seems to have vanished” (2) says Angela Sirigu of Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, who directed the study with other French researchers and clinicians. Through post-treatment biomedical screenings of the experimental subect, Sirigu showed that VNS elevates the mind’s level of consciousness in way that increases movement, sensation, awareness, and metablic activity (1, 2).

Sirigu claims that as shown in the study, VNS can allow subjects in a long-term vegetative state to regain a minimal yet scientifically groundbreaking level of consciousness (1). Not only will this help patients suffering from long-term vegetation, she says, but it will drive human understanding of “this fascinating capacity of our mind to produce conscious experience” (1, 2).

Works Cited

  1. Martina Corazzol, Guillaume Lio, Arthur Lefevre, Gianluca Deiana, Laurence Tell, Nathalie André-Obadia, Pierre Bourdillon, Marc Guenot, Michel Desmurget, Jacques Luauté, Angela Sirigu.  Restoring consciousness with vagus nerve stimulation Current Biology , 2017; 27 (18): R994 DOI:  1016/j.cub.2017.07.060
  1. Cell Press. (2017, September 25). After 15 years in a vegetative state, nerve stimulation restores consciousness.  ScienceDaily . Retrieved September 29, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170925132935.htm
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