Coma: researchers observe never before detected brain activity
Researchers from the University of Montreal and their colleagues have found brain activity beyond a flat line EEG, which they have called Nu-complexes (from the Greek letter n). According to existing scientific data, researchers and doctors had established that beyond the so-called "flat line" (flat electroencephalogram or EEG), there is nothing at all, no brain activity, no possibility of life. This major discovery suggests that there is a whole new frontier in animal and human brain functioning.
The researchers observed a human patient in an extreme deep hypoxic coma under powerful anti-epileptic medication that he had been required to take due to his health issues. “Dr. Bogdan Florea from Romania contacted our research team because he had observed unexplainable phenomena on the EEG of a coma patient. We realized that there was cerebral activity, unknown until now, in the patient’s brain,” says Dr. Florin Amzica, director of the study and professor at the University of Montreal’s School of Dentistry.
Dr. Amzica’s team then decided to recreate the patient’s state in cats, the standard animal model for neurological studies. Using the anesthetic isoflurane, they placed the cats in an extremely deep—but completely reversible—coma. The cats passed the flat (isoelectric) EEG line, which is associated with silence in the cortex (the governing part of the brain). The team observed cerebral activity in 100% of the cats in deep coma, in the form of oscillations generated in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning processes. These oscillations, unknown until now, were transmitted to the master part of the brain, the cortex. The researchers concluded that the observed EEG waves, or Nu-complexes, were the same as those observed in the human patient.
Dr. Amzica stresses the importance of understanding the implications of these findings. “Those who have decided to or have to 'unplug’ a near-brain-dead relative needn’t worry or doubt their doctor. The current criteria for diagnosing brain death are extremely stringent. Our finding may perhaps in the long term lead to a redefinition of the criteria, but we are far from that. Moreover, this is not the most important or useful aspect of our study,” Dr. Amzica said.