Scientists Discover How to Make You Laugh - Through Your Brain
Mar 28 2019
According to a recent study spearheaded by neuroscientists at Emory University School of Medicine, laughter really could be the best medicine when it comes to brain surgery. The innovative study saw the team use electrical stimulation to activate a focal pathway in the brain and trigger laughter, which is immediately followed by a sense of calm and contentment. The technique was used while conducting diagnostic monitoring for seizure diagnosis on an epilepsy patient, with the effects later used to successfully undergo awake brain surgery on the same patient.
Sparking the cingulum bundle
The focal pathway is known as the cingulum bundle, with the team showing that direct electrical stimulation can elicit behavioural effects such as laughing. The findings are set to be published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation and have been hailed as a "potentially transformative" solution that cold be used to appease patients during awake brain surgery. While the procedure can be traumatising it's often necessary to avoid sedation and keep patients awake so doctors can detect impairments and identify any issues.
"Even well-prepared patients may panic during awake surgery, which can be dangerous," explains Kelly Bijanki, lead author of the study and PhD, assistant professor of neurosurgery. "This particular patient was especially prone to it because of moderate baseline anxiety. And upon waking from global anaesthesia, she did indeed begin to panic. When we turned on her cingulum stimulation, she immediately reported feeling happy and relaxed, told jokes about her family, and was able to tolerate the awake procedure successfully."
Using laughter to treat depression, anxiety and chronic pain
Beyond the use of electrical stimulation during awake surgery, the team maintain that activating the cingulum bundle, which sits under the cortex and curves around the midbrain, could be used as an effective way to treat depression and anxiety, as well as manage chronic pain.
According to the paper, stimulation of the cingulum bundle "immediately elicited mirthful behaviour, including smiling and laughing, and reports of positive emotional experience."
"In addition, although substantial further study is necessary in this area, the cingulum bundle could become a new target for chronic deep brain stimulation therapies for anxiety, mood, and pain disorders," says Bijanki.
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