In the human brain, cells talk to one another through the routine exchange of electrical signals. But when people fall into a deep sleep, the higher regions of the brain - regions that during waking hours are a bustling grid of neural dialogue - apparently lose their ability to communicate effectively, causing consciousness to fade.
Writing today (Sept. 30) in the journal Science, a team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of psychiatry Giulio Tononi reports that the fading of consciousness during dreamless sleep seems to occur as the different regions of the cerebral cortex that mediate perception, thought and action become functionally disconnected.
Tononi and his team observed the disconnect when brief, magnetically generated pulses of electricity were directed to specific regions of the brain. The pulses stimulated an electrochemical response from the targeted cells, which, when the subject was awake, rippled across the brain, traveling along networks of nerve fibers to different cerebral destinations. But when the subject was in deep sleep, the same response was quickly extinguished and did not travel beyond the stimulated cells.
Giulio Tononi | EurekAlert!
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