An Off/On Switch for Consciousness

Gray_718-emphasizing-claustrumTo say I enjoy the mystery of what consciousness is would be an understatement. Today we got a little more knowledge about this aspect of being human. In a study published last week, Mohamad Koubeissi at the George Washington University in Washington DC and his colleagues describe how they managed to switch a woman's consciousness off and on by stimulating her claustrum. The woman has epilepsy so the team were using deep brain electrodes to record signals from different brain regions to work out where her seizures originate. One electrode was positioned next to the claustrum, an area that had never been stimulated before.

When the team zapped the area with high frequency electrical impulses, the woman lost consciousness. She stopped reading and stared blankly into space, she didn't respond to auditory or visual commands and her breathing slowed. As soon as the stimulation stopped, she immediately regained consciousness with no memory of the event. The same thing happened every time the area was stimulated during two days of experiments.

The claustrum is thin sheet of neurons attached to the underside of the neocortex.  We don't really know what it does per se, but it is thought to play a role in communication between the two hemispheres of the brain.

I wonder what it does when we sleep? Or meditate?