An intriguing new study out of Montreal might redefine our concept of being "brain dead." Researchers for the first time think that the brain remains active even in patients whose EEG lines have gone flat, reports the Los Angeles Times. The study sprang from an unusual case in Romania in which a patient lapsed into a coma, then got put into a deeper coma by doctors. Much to their surprise, doctors then detected cerebral activity in his hippocampus, never before seen in such a deep coma. The University of Montreal study replicated the feat with cats under heavy anesthesia.
“It’s a new frontier in brain functioning,” one of the scientists tells the Montreal Gazette. The study shows "there's a deeper form of coma that goes beyond the flat line, and during this state of very deep coma, cortical activity revives." That doesn't mean that families who have "pulled the plug" on loved ones should agonize: This generally applies to patients with healthy brains who are put into medically induced comas, not to patients with severe brain damage, explains Discovery News. One potential application: Doctors could induce such deep comas in patients as a way of ensuring the brain doesn't atrophy. (It's not the only interesting study in PLOS One this week: Another finds that mice lose their fear of cats when infected with a certain parasite.)