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Just before death, brain goes into overdrive

Even as the body’s systems slow down eventually grinding to a halt as the flow of blood stops, there is a storm of activity in the brain, which plays a surprising destabilizing role in heart function.

The burst of activity just before death occurs is apparently a desperate effort by the brain to save the heart; but latest studies show that it actually ends up accelerating cardiac demise.

“Amidst the loss of consciousness and ebbing of life signs, internally the brain goes into overdrive resulting in sustained, organized activity and increased communication with the heart, clearly in an effort to save it,” says senior study author Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology. However, all this brain signaling at near-death may, in fact, accelerate cardiac demise, according to the study published in this week’s PNAS Early Edition.

A team of researchers from engineering, neuroscience, physiology, cardiology, chemistry and pharmacology looked at how the heart of a healthy person collapses within minutes of being deprived of oxygen. The study shows that blocking the brain’s signals slows ventricular fibrillation, in which the lower chambers of the heart quiver and the heart is unable to pump blood—a very serious cardiac rhythm disturbance.

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