News Headlines Article

Brain Stimulation May Give Hope to Coma Patients
Wall Street Journal

We know the feeling: After backpacking up the mountain and setting up the tents, we slip into sleep, never mind the lumpy ground. Ancient wiring in our brainstem — the region that connects the upper cerebral structures to the lower spinal cord — switches its activity, dialing down the arousal system that makes us alert and attentive when we are up, and releasing neurochemicals that usher in the soothing loss of conscious awareness.

To most of us, sleep resembles coma. But the sleeper will wake to shaking or the sound of an alarm, while the coma patient is completely unresponsive, save for some automatic reflexes, such as a knee-jerk reflex. Unlike sleep, coma is a disorder of consciousness, resulting from severe brain damage caused by head injury, stroke or oxygen deprivation.