As many as two million people in the United Kingdom repeatedly see people, animals, and objects that have no objective reality. Hallucinations on the border of sleep, dementing illnesses, delirium, eye disease, and schizophrenia account for 90% of these. The remainder have rarer disorders. We review existing models of recurrent complex visual hallucinations (RCVH) in the awake person, including cortical irritation, cortical hyperexcitability and cortical release, top-down activation, misperception, dream intrusion, and interactive models. We provide evidence that these can neither (...) fully account for the phenomenology of RCVH, nor for variations in the frequency of RCVH in different disorders. We propose a novel Perception and Attention Deficit (PAD) model for RCVH. A combination of impaired attentional binding and poor sensory activation of a correct proto-object, in conjunction with a relatively intact scene representation, bias perception to allow the intrusion of a hallucinatory proto-object into a scene perception. Incorporation of this image into a context-specific hallucinatory scene representation accounts for repetitive hallucinations. We suggest that these impairments are underpinned by disturbances in a lateral frontal cortex–ventral visual stream system. We show how the frequency of RCVH in different diseases is related to the coexistence of attentional and visual perceptual impairments; how attentional and perceptual processes can account for their phenomenology; and that diseases and other states with high rates of RCVH have cholinergic dysfunction in both frontal cortex and the ventral visual stream. Several tests of the model are indicated, together with a number of treatment options that it generates. Key Words: Blindness; Charles Bonnet; cholinergic; cortical release; delirium; dementia; dream intrusion; hallucination; Perception and Attention Deficit (PAD) model; schizophrenia. (shrink)
Comparing the phenomenology, neurochemical pathology, and psychopharmacology of hallucinations and dreaming is limited by the available data. Evidence to date reveals no simple correspondence between the two states. Differences in the phenomenology of visual hallucinations and the visual component of dreams may reflect variations in visual context acting on the same underlying mechanism – the minimal visual input during dreaming contrasts with the more substantial perceived context in hallucinations. Variations in cholinergic, dopaminergic and serotonergic neurotransmitter function during sleep and during (...) hallucinations in Lewy body dementias, together with relevant drug effects suggest that, on the whole, different, potentially opposite, changes characterise the two states. A similar analysis of other psychotic features in Lewy body dementia and other disorders suggests that, in contrast to hallucinations, there may be more convincing parallels between dreaming and delusional states. (shrink)
Applying Behrendt & Young's (B&Y's) model of thalamocortical synchrony to complex visual hallucinations in neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia with Lewy bodies and progressive supranuclear palsy, leads us to propose that the primary pathology may be cortical rather than thalamic. Additionally, the extinction of active hallucinations by eye closure challenges their conception of the role of reduced sensory input.
Commentators agree that the Perception and Attention Deficit (PAD) model is a promising model for accounting for recurrent complex visual hallucinations (RCVH) across several disorders, though with varying detailed criticisms. Its central tenets are not modified, but further consideration of generative models of visual processing and the relationship of proto-objects and memory systems allows the PAD model to deal with variations in phenomenology. The commentaries suggest new ways to generate evidence that will test the model.
Merker's core idea, that the experience of being conscious reflects the interactions of actions, targets, and motivations in the upper brainstem, with cortex providing the content of the conscious experience, merits serious consideration. However, we have two areas of concern: first, that his definition of consciousness is so broad that it is difficult to find any organisms with a brain that could be non-conscious; second, that the focus on one cortical–subcortical system neglects other systems (e.g., basal forebrain and brainstem cholinergic (...) systems and their cortical and thalamic target areas) which may be of at least equal significance. (Published Online May 1 2007). (shrink)