vagus nerve

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Despite some of the most significant advances in brain research in the past decade alone, consciousness — and the brain’s role in it — are still areas of constant discovery. As an example, French researchers from the Institut des Sciences Cognitives (ISC) Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, were able to revive the brain of a 35-year-old man who had been in a vegetative state for 15 years to a state of minimal consciousness through vagus nerve stimulation (VNS). They published their results last month in the journal Current Biology.

People in a vegetative state still typically breathe on their own and have periods of wakefulness (unlike a coma in which they are unconscious the entire time) but are usually unresponsive to external stimuli and don’t communicate. “They don’t have a presence in the world,” study leader, neurologist Angela Sirigu, told National Geographic. On average, after about a year in a vegetative state, the chances of recovering brain function are quite low, which makes the French patient’s improvement remarkable.

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