Research press release


Nature Neuroscience

While you were sleeping

植物状態の患者や意識のほとんどない状態の患者でも、ある形式での学習ならば依然として獲得の可能性があるらしいという研究結果が、Nature Neuroscienceに発表された。この研究結果は、これらの患者の幾人かが、行動には現れない意識処理過程を、部分的にではあるが保持していた可能性を示唆している。

T Bekinschteinらは、条件付け課題を使用した。被験者はこの課題で、音が鳴るとそれに続いて眼球に対し空気が吹きつけられるという関連を学習させられた。この関連によって、音が鳴った直後の眼球周辺に予測的な活動が導かれた。



Patients in vegetative and minimally conscious states still appear capable of acquiring certain forms of learning, reports a study published this week in Nature Neuroscience. This suggests that some of these patients could have partially preserved conscious processing that may not be apparent in behavior.

Tristan Bekinschtein and his colleagues used a conditioning technique, where subjects learnt to associate a tone with a subsequent puff of air to the eye. The association led to anticipatory muscle activity around the eye as soon as the tone was presented.

It was previously thought that learning this sort of association between a tone and an air puff requires explicit awareness of the relationship between the two stimuli. However, the vegetative patients also showed these anticipatory changes in muscle activity in response to the tone. This activity increased closer to the time that the air puff was expected, and the team found that patients who showed this type of conditioning were more likely to later show increased behavioral responsiveness.

The anticipatory learning did not happen in normal subjects who were given general anesthesia. This suggests that such learning cannot happen in unconscious states. Instead, patients in vegetative and minimally conscious states may have some preserved consciousness which is not visible via intentional movements or verbal responses, but which is still enough to support some types of learning.

doi: 10.1038/nn.2391

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