Electric zap ‘wakes’ man after 15 years in a vegetative state

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A man in France has regained some aspects of consciousness after being in a vegetative state for 15 years, after surgeons used a technique to stimulate his brain via a nerve in the neck. The 35-year-old was diagnosed as being in a vegetative state – now referred to as “unresponsive wakefulness” – after a car accident in 2001.

The vagus nerve runs from the brain to several areas of the body. It modulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls heart rate and lung function, among other processes. It connects, directly or indirectly, to brain areas including the thalamus – a highly interconnected hub of neural activity, the amygdala, which regulates emotion, and the hippocampus, which is heavily involved in memories.

Sirigu’s team hypothesised that stimulating the vagus nerve would increase activity in brain regions that could help the man regain consciousness. “I believe that’s what happened,” says Sirigu.

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