Review

Consciousness and Anesthesia

Science  07 Nov 2008:
Vol. 322, Issue 5903, pp. 876-880
DOI: 10.1126/science.1149213

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Abstract

When we are anesthetized, we expect consciousness to vanish. But does it always? Although anesthesia undoubtedly induces unresponsiveness and amnesia, the extent to which it causes unconsciousness is harder to establish. For instance, certain anesthetics act on areas of the brain's cortex near the midline and abolish behavioral responsiveness, but not necessarily consciousness. Unconsciousness is likely to ensue when a complex of brain regions in the posterior parietal area is inactivated. Consciousness vanishes when anesthetics produce functional disconnection in this posterior complex, interrupting cortical communication and causing a loss of integration; or when they lead to bistable, stereotypic responses, causing a loss of information capacity. Thus, anesthetics seem to cause unconsciousness when they block the brain's ability to integrate information.

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