Terminal spreading depolarization and electrical silence in death of human cerebral cortex

Ann Neurol. 2018 Feb;83(2):295-310. doi: 10.1002/ana.25147. Epub 2018 Feb 15.


Objective: Restoring the circulation is the primary goal in emergency treatment of cerebral ischemia. However, better understanding of how the brain responds to energy depletion could help predict the time available for resuscitation until irreversible damage and advance development of interventions that prolong this span. Experimentally, injury to central neurons begins only with anoxic depolarization. This potentially reversible, spreading wave typically starts 2 to 5 minutes after the onset of severe ischemia, marking the onset of a toxic intraneuronal change that eventually results in irreversible injury.

Methods: To investigate this in the human brain, we performed recordings with either subdural electrode strips (n = 4) or intraparenchymal electrode arrays (n = 5) in patients with devastating brain injury that resulted in activation of a Do Not Resuscitate-Comfort Care order followed by terminal extubation.

Results: Withdrawal of life-sustaining therapies produced a decline in brain tissue partial pressure of oxygen (pti O2 ) and circulatory arrest. Silencing of spontaneous electrical activity developed simultaneously across regional electrode arrays in 8 patients. This silencing, termed "nonspreading depression," developed during the steep falling phase of pti O2 (intraparenchymal sensor, n = 6) at 11 (interquartile range [IQR] = 7-14) mmHg. Terminal spreading depolarizations started to propagate between electrodes 3.9 (IQR = 2.6-6.3) minutes after onset of the final drop in perfusion and 13 to 266 seconds after nonspreading depression. In 1 patient, terminal spreading depolarization induced the initial electrocerebral silence in a spreading depression pattern; circulatory arrest developed thereafter.

Interpretation: These results provide fundamental insight into the neurobiology of dying and have important implications for survivable cerebral ischemic insults. Ann Neurol 2018;83:295-310.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Death / physiopathology*
  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Cortical Spreading Depression / physiology*
  • Electrocorticography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged