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Scientists Say a Mind-Bending Rhythm In the Brain Can Act Like Ketamine

In mice and one person, scientists were able to reproduce out-of-body experiences often associated with ketamine by inducing certain brain cells to fire together in a slow-rhythmic fashion. The findings have been published in the journal Nature. NPR reports: “There was a rhythm that appeared and it was an oscillation that appeared only when the patient was dissociating,” says Dr. Karl Deisseroth, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Stanford University. Dissociation is a brain state in which a person feels separated from their own thoughts, feelings and body. It is common in people with some mental illnesses, or who have experienced a traumatic event. It can also be induced by certain drugs, including ketamine and PCP (angel dust). Deisseroth’s lab made the discovery while studying the brains of mice that had been given ketamine or other drugs that cause dissociation. The team was using technology that allowed them to monitor the activity of cells throughout the brain

“It was like pointing a telescope at a new part of the sky,” Deisseroth says. “And something really unexpected jumped out at us.” What jumped out was a very distinct rhythm produced by cells in an area involved in learning and navigation. Those cells were firing three times each second. To learn more, the team used a tool called optogenetics, which Deisseroth helped invent. It uses light to control the firing of specific cells in the brain. As a result, the team was able to artificially generate this rhythm in the brains of mice. We could see, right before our eyes, dissociation happening,” Deisseroth says.

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