New ‘map of consciousness’ could help to wake up coma patients

Scientists have created a ‘map of consciousness’ that could help to wake up coma patients. Here’s what it tells us about the human brain.


Despite being a fundamental part of human existence, we know very little about consciousness and how it happens. Now, scientists have just brought us one step closer to finding out with a new ‘map of consciousness’ – and their results could help to wake up coma patients.

Human consciousness is made from two crucial building blocks: arousal and awareness. In a groundbreaking new study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, a team of scientists have mapped out how these two states join up.

The result? A ‘map of wakefulness’ that charts the connectivity of the brain and reveals where consciousness takes place.

Using MRI scans, the researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital were able to study three post-mortem human brains at resolutions of less than a millimetre.

The map revealed previously unseen pathways between key areas of the brain. When joined together, the researchers called these pathways the ‘default network’ of the brain. This, they say, is the part of your brain that is active during a resting state of consciousness.

Just like when you plan your route to a destination, the researchers also used the map to work out the ‘route’ that is vital to firing up self-awareness.

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