Magazine article Science News

Hallucinating Brains Pose for First Scans

Magazine article Science News

Hallucinating Brains Pose for First Scans

Article excerpt

A 23-year-old man suffering from schizophrenia sits in a laboratory and hallucinates. He sees disembodied human heads rolling across a vivid backdrop, uttering curses and insults at him.

As this bizarre foray into psychosis begins, the man presses a button that activates brain-imaging equipment. A halo of sensors measures the blood surging and ebbing throughout his brain, enabling scientists to enter the anatomical realm of hallucinations.

Brain scans of this man and five people who frequently hear voices as a result of their schizophrenia have yielded the first direct look at the biological underpinnings of hallucinations, according to a report in the Nov. 9 Nature.

"We now have a map of brain areas involved in the production of hallucinations," contends David A. Silbersweig, a psychiatrist at New York Hospital-Cornell University Medical Center in New York City. "The network of structures that we found is larger than was previously suspected."

Silbersweig and New York Hospital radiologist Emily Stern collaborated with researchers at Hammersmith Hospital in London. Silbersweig and Stern developed several technical innovations that allowed volunteers to activate PET scanners during hallucinations by pressing a button.

A total of 22 to 25 blood flow scans were obtained for each participant, about half during hallucinations and the rest when no voices or visions intruded on their consciousness. The researchers were then able to tag brain areas uniquely linked to hallucinations. …

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