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Giant neurons associated with consciousness are discovered

Giant neurons associated with consciousness are discovered

July 14, 2024

What is the nature of consciousness? This is one of the great mysteries of psychology, neuroscience and the philosophy of the mind, and although it may seem curious, research on animals, whose sense of consciousness has to be something different from ours, has helped to clarify it.

In fact, recently a team of researchers from the Allen Institute of Brain Sciences led by Christof Koch has disclosed the discovery of three giant neurons that connect a large part of the brain of the mice; these neurons could be the physiological basis of consciousness, but other experts disagree.

  • Related article: "Types of neurons: characteristics and functions"

The three giant neurons

Christof Koch and his team made a presentation to members of the neuroscientific community in which they presented the methodology and results of their research on neuronal connectivity in the brains of mice.


The most outstanding aspect of his paper was the identification of three giant neurons that arise from the brain structure known as "cloister" and connect it with a good part of the brain. The largest of the three comes to surround the entire brain , while the other two also cover a significant portion of the hemispheres.

As revealed by the three-dimensional images obtained from the research, these three cells maintain solid synaptic connections with neurons from many different regions of the brain. This suggests that they can play a relevant role in the coordination of the electrochemical impulses of the central nervous system.

However, for the moment The existence of these three neurons in other species has not been confirmed animals, including humans, so great caution must be exercised in trying to generalize Koch's claims.


  • Related article: "Parts of the human brain (and functions)"

What is the cloister?

The cloister is a layer of neurons attached to the lower face of the cerebral neocortex, very close to the insula and the basal ganglia; It is sometimes considered a part of this structure. Its amplitude is irregular, measuring several millimeters in some areas and much less one millimeter in others.

This region of the brain makes synapses with many cortical and subcortical structures , including the hippocampus, fundamental for long-term memory, and the amygdala, involved in emotional learning.

The neurons of the cloister not only maintain relevant connections with other parts of the brain, but they are also connected to each other very closely. This has been associated with the uniform processing of the stimulation that passes through the cloister.


The proposal of the Koch team

Based on his recent research and others in which he had previously collaborated, Koch defends that consciousness could be located in the cloister , which has been the main focus of his professional career.

According to the proposal of this team, the three giant neurons that they have found would allow the coordination of nerve impulses in the cloister : they associate the reception and sending of signals from this structure with the appearance of consciousness, taking into account the global nature of this transmission and the functions that have been attributed to the cloister.

Another relevant research for this hypothesis is that carried out by the group of Mohamad Koubeissi (2014) with a woman affected by epilepsy. This team found that the stimulation of the cloister by electrodes "deactivated" consciousness of the patient, while the interruption of this stimulation caused her to recover.

Investigation methodology

The research team at the Allen Institute caused the production of fluorescent proteins in individual neurons originating in the cloister of several mice. For this they used a substance that, being present in the organism, caused the activation of certain genes.

By propagating through target neurons, these proteins endowed these cells with a distinctive color. Later they took 10 thousand images of sections of the brains and used computer software to create Three-dimensional maps of activated neurons .

Criticism to this hypothesis

Several experts in the neurosciences have disagreed with the Koch team's proposal. In general, the localization of his hypothesis has been criticized, which attributes to the cloister the main role in human consciousness without being based on a solid research base.

To study the veracity of these approaches, Chau and collaborators (2015) carried out a study with 171 war veterans who had suffered head injuries. They found that the injuries in the cloister were related to a slower recovery of consciousness after the damage , but not with more serious long-term sequelae.

At the moment the evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the cloister is key to consciousness are inconclusive, especially when we refer to human beings. However, the evidence does suggest that this structure may be relevant for attention control through the connection of different regions of both cerebral hemispheres.

Bibliographic references:

  • Chau, A .; Salazar, A. M .; Krueger, F .; Cristofori, I. & Grafman, J. (2015). The effect of claustrum lesions on human consciousness and recovery of function. Consciousness and Cognition, 36: 256-64.
  • Crick, F. C. & Koch, C. (2005). What is the function of the claustrum? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 360 (1458): 1271-79.
  • Koubeissi, M. Z .; Bartolomei, F .; Beltagy, A. & Picard, F. (2014). Electrical stimulation of a small brain area reversibly disrupts consciousness. Epilepsy & Behavior, 37: 32-35.
  • Torgerson, C. M .; Irimia, A .; Goh, S. Y. M. & Van Horn, J. D. (2015). The DTI connectivity of the human claustrum. Human Brain Mapping, 36: 827-38.

This Giant Neuron Could Explain Where Consciousness Comes From (July 2024).


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