Brain stimulation and conscious experience

Consciousness and Cognition 13 (3):626-645 (2004)
Abstract
Libet discovered that a substantial duration (> 0.5-1.0 s) of direct electrical stimulation of the surface of the somatosensory cortex at threshold currents is required before human subjects can report that a conscious somatosensory experience had occurred. Using a reaction time method we confirm that a similarly long stimulation duration at threshold currents is required for activation of elementary visual experiences (phosphenes) in human subjects following stimulation of the surface of the striate cortex. However, the reaction times for the subject to respond to the cessation of the visual experience after the end of electrical stimulation could be as brief as 225-242 ms. We also carried out extensive studies in cats under a variety of anesthetic conditions using the same electrodes and parameters of stimulation employed in the human studies to study the patterns of neuronal activity beneath the stimulating surface electrode. Whereas sufficiently strong currents can activate neurons within milliseconds, stimulating currents close to threshold activate sustained neural activity only after at least 350-500 ms. When currents are close to threshold, some neurons are inhibited for several hundreds of millisecond before the balance between inhibition and excitation shifts towards excitation. These results suggest that the prolonged latencies, i.e., latencies beyond 200-250 ms, for the emergence of conscious experience following direct cortical stimulation result from a delay in the sustained activation of underlying cortical neurons at threshold currents rather than being due to any unusually long duration in central processing time. Intracellular records from cortical neurological cells during repetitive electrical stimulation of the surface of the feline striate cortex demonstrate that such stimulation induces a profound depolarizing shift in membrane potential that may persist after each stimulus train. Such a depolarization is evidence that extracellular K+ concentrations have increased during electrical stimulation. Such an increase in extracellular K+ progressively increases cortical excitability until the threshold for sustained activation of cortical neurons is reached and then exceeded. Consequently, the long latency for threshold activation of cortical neurons depends upon a dynamically increasing cortical facilatory process that begins hundreds of milliseconds before there is sustained activation of such neurons. In some cases, this facilatory process must overcome an initial stimulus-induced inhibition before neuronal firing commences
Keywords *Brain Stimulation  *Reaction Time  *Stimulus Duration  *Visual Cortex  Visual Perception
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