Journal Club #3 – Dr. A. van Loon (PhD): “How does manipulation of neurotransmitter systems affect consciousness?”

The third APRA Journal Club will be lead by Dr. A. van Loon (PhD) on November 8th, 6PM. Get in touch for location info and reserving a spot. An abstract of her talk can be found below.


“What makes us become aware of the things we see? How does our brain transform the information that we get into our eyes to a full experience of a nice piece of art or an intriguing person? When we see a person, we do not only experience the color of their sweater, someone’s face or the direction of the person’s gaze, instead we experience the person as a whole. How and where in the brain does this information become integrated into a unifying percept and into a conscious experience?

In search for the neural correlates of consciousness (NCC) different neural correlates have been proposed, depending on the kind of neural signals recorded, the type of manipulation used, and the interpretation of behavioral results (for reviews see (Crick & Koch, 2003; Dehaene, Changeux, Naccache, Sackur, & Sergent, 2006; Lamme, 2006; Seth, 2007; Tononi & Koch, 2008). But the role of neurotransmitters in the NCC has not received much attention, while neurotransmitters are essential in neural communication. Intervening with neurotransmitters systems to induce loss of consciousness occurs every day, for example with anesthetics in surgery rooms. Neurotransmitter systems could therefore be very informative to study the NCC. But which neurotransmitter systems are involved?

We know that anesthetics operate on many different neurotransmitters systems: N- methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), glycine and acetylcholine (for a review see Alkire et al., 2008). In general, anesthetics specifically manipulate neurotransmitters by antagonizing or agonizing their receptors, causing a depression of neural activity by reducing excitatory glutamatergic neurotransmission (antagonizing) and potentiating inhibitory GABAergic neurotransmission (agonizing) (Alkire, Hudetz, & Tononi, 2008; Hemmings, et al., 2005). How does manipulation of these neurotransmitter systems affect consciousness? During this talk I will give an overview of a few studies that I conducted during my PhD.”


 

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