Thalamic deep brain stimulation paradigm to reduce consciousness: Cortico-striatal dynamics implicated in mechanisms of consciousness

PLoS Comput Biol. 2022 Jul 11;18(7):e1010294. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1010294. eCollection 2022 Jul.


Anesthetic manipulations provide much-needed causal evidence for neural correlates of consciousness, but non-specific drug effects complicate their interpretation. Evidence suggests that thalamic deep brain stimulation (DBS) can either increase or decrease consciousness, depending on the stimulation target and parameters. The putative role of the central lateral thalamus (CL) in consciousness makes it an ideal DBS target to manipulate circuit-level mechanisms in cortico-striato-thalamic (CST) systems, thereby influencing consciousness and related processes. We used multi-microelectrode DBS targeted to CL in macaques while recording from frontal, parietal, and striatal regions. DBS induced episodes of abnormally long, vacant staring with low-frequency oscillations here termed vacant, perturbed consciousness (VPC). DBS modulated VPC likelihood in a frequency-specific manner. VPC events corresponded to decreases in measures of neural complexity (entropy) and integration (Φ*), proposed indices of consciousness, and substantial changes to communication in CST circuits. During VPC, power spectral density and coherence at low frequencies increased across CST circuits, especially in thalamo-parietal and cortico-striatal pathways. Decreased consciousness and neural integration corresponded to shifts in cortico-striatal network configurations that dissociated parietal and subcortical structures. Overall, the features of VPC and implicated networks were similar to those of absence epilepsy. As this same multi-microelectrode DBS method-but at different stimulation frequencies-can also increase consciousness in anesthetized macaques, it can be used to flexibly address questions of consciousness with limited confounds, as well as inform clinical investigations of other consciousness disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Consciousness
  • Corpus Striatum
  • Deep Brain Stimulation*
  • Thalamus / physiology