Study Shows Electrical Activity in the Brain after Clinical Death

Researchers Provide the First Scientific Framework for Near Death Experiences

University of Michigan researchers George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., and Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., provide the first scientific framework for near-death experiences. Credit: University of Michigan Health System

A newly published animal study from the University of Michigan shows high electrical activity in the brain after clinical death, providing the first scientific framework for near-death experiences.

Ann Arbor, Michigan — The “near-death experience” reported by cardiac arrest survivors worldwide may be grounded in science, according to research at the University of Michigan Health System.

Whether and how the dying brain is capable of generating conscious activity has been vigorously debated.

But in this week’s PNAS Early Edition, a U-M study shows shortly after clinical death, in which the heart stops beating and blood stops flowing to the brain, rats display brain activity patterns characteristic of conscious perception.

“This study, performed in animals, is the first dealing with what happens to the neurophysiological state of the dying brain,” says lead study author Jimo Borjigin, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology and associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan Medical School.

“It will form the foundation for future human studies investigating mental experiences occurring in the dying brain, including seeing light during cardiac arrest,” she says.

Approximately 20 percent of cardiac arrest survivors report having had a near-death experience. These visions and perceptions have been called “realer than real,” according to previous research, but it remains unclear whether the brain is capable of such activity after cardiac arrest.

“We reasoned that if near-death experience stems from brain activity, neural correlates of consciousness should be identifiable in humans or animals even after the cessation of cerebral blood flow,” she says.

Researchers analyzed the recordings of brain activity called electroencephalograms (EEGs) from nine anesthetized rats undergoing experimentally induced cardiac arrest.

Within the first 30 seconds after cardiac arrest, all of the rats displayed a widespread, transient surge of highly synchronized brain activity that had features associated with a highly aroused brain.

Furthermore, the authors observed nearly identical patterns in the dying brains of rats undergoing asphyxiation.

“The prediction that we would find some signs of conscious activity in the brain during cardiac arrest was confirmed with the data,” says Borjigin, who conceived the idea for the project in 2007 with study co-author neurologist Michael M. Wang, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology and associate professor of molecular and integrative physiology at the U-M.

“But, we were surprised by the high levels of activity,” adds study senior author anesthesiologist George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of anesthesiology and neurosurgery at the U-M. “ In fact, at near-death, many known electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, suggesting that the brain is capable of well-organized electrical activity during the early stage of clinical death.­­­”

The brain is assumed to be inactive during cardiac arrest. However, the neurophysiological state of the brain immediately following cardiac arrest had not been systemically investigated until now.

The current study resulted from the collaboration between the labs of Borjigin and Mashour, with U-M physicist UnCheol Lee, Ph.D., playing a critical role in the analysis.

“This study tells us that reduction of oxygen or both oxygen and glucose during cardiac arrest can stimulate brain activity that is characteristic of conscious processing,” says Borjigin. “It also provides the first scientific framework for the near-death experiences reported by many cardiac arrest survivors.”

Additional University of Michigan authors: Tiecheng Liu, Dinesh Pal, Sean Huff, Daniel Klarr, Jennifer Sloboda and Jason Hernandez.

Funding: The work of George Mashour, M.D., Ph.D., was supported by National Institutes of Health Grant GM098578 and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Reference: “Surge of neurophysiological coherence and connectivity in the dying brain” by Jimo Borjigin, UnCheol Lee, Tiecheng Liu, Dinesh Pal, Sean Huff, Daniel Klarr, Jennifer Sloboda, Jason Hernandez, Michael M. Wang and George A. Mashour, 12 August 2013, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1308285110


10 Comments on "Study Shows Electrical Activity in the Brain after Clinical Death"

  1. This or something very like it has been done before by reasearchers from Radboud University Nijmegen, in 2011 to be exact:

  2. Still does not explain after death experiences that have so many other factors which cannot be explains by simple brain electrical activity such as 80% of those studied NDE’s that were blind, could see while they were dead (seeing nurses, Dr’s and describing attributes which require sight, as well as others seeing things impossible to see from their vantage point, like describing a pair of shoes on the roof of the hospital, people in the waiting room, what they said, what they were doing, etc. This scientific peer reviewed study also included children, and those from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds as this one describes:

  3. Madanagopal.V.C | August 14, 2013 at 5:34 am | Reply

    Sir, If I am permitted to give below one of my comments for near death experience in sci-tech daily on october 23, 2012, I will adduce the reasons for electrical activity of brain for this article. The activity is purely electrical and even the sound experienced will be a big bang and the light will be extremely bright. It is like a dying flash glowing more brightly when it exhausts all the energy of light. Nothing metaphysical can be attributed to this. The report of seeing nurses or other relatives would be purely like a dream flash back occuring at that time. Reporting some objects at the surroundings could be that the brain had visualised those things earlier and recorded it to dream it back. Thank You.
    an extract is given under:October 23, 2012 at 10:22 am
    Once I hit the top of my head against a low ceiling I heard a clear ringing sound of Bell in loud tone. Again another time when I fell back from a chair and hit at the back of my head resulting in swooning briefly, I vividly remember a bright green light going on a circle till I lost my consciousness. This is because when I hit my head the region of the brain responsible for audition was perturbed and it interpreted the electric jolt of neurons as pure sound. In the other case the backside region of the brain where optic nerve`s electrical responses are processed, the same disturbances are revealed as optical phenomena. In both the cases there were no bell ringing or light seen by me.When I come back from the brief trauma, I clearly remember them. At a very young age when the chloroform was administered to me for a minor surgery, I could vividly recall green light drawing towards it to the tunnel when I just lost my senses. Why I am adducing these anecdotes because I want to substantiate that all of them are due to brain chemistry without any hallucinations. These near death experience also brought back the subjects back to life, coupled with hallucinations they were undergoing under the trauma they suffered. Why don`t we therefore agree with scientists the brain chemistry explained by them without assigning any metaphysical reasons for them ? Thank YOu.

  4. Whatever the explanation is for the NDE’s, the phenomenon has removed any fear of death I might’ve had. All of those who experienced a NDE said they felt loved like never before, had all their questions about life answered and about 90% (anecdotal) wanted to stay dead and not come back to face the real world of bills, work, etc. Death is inevitable so we might as well enjoy it.

    • There are many ways of dying that are not enjoyable. Burning in a building or car is probably not very fun the first couple minutes.

  5. The brain does not generate consciousness. Rather it is a receiver/tool- a primary instrument for consciousness by which it commandeers the physical body. Once the primary instrument is damaged to the point of clinical death, the soul’s ability to commandeer the physical body is disrupted and activity FADES away. Consciousness wears the physical body like a glove but is NOT itself physical. You would have a better grasp of this explanation if you have every deliberately astral projected (this would also make you realize how idiotic it is to think that one is merely flesh and bones). The body dies and rots, but the soul is immortal and lives on. The problem here is physical science trying to explain/understand a non-physical reality using physical means. There is PHYSICAL SCIENCE/ science of material things and there IS SCIENCE BEYOND MATERIAL THINGS.. The science of the spiritual realm/higher vibrations/energies.. Which i must say is FAR MORE INTERESTING. Higher dimensions/planes of existence. Modern science need a major adjustment of some of its methods.

  6. They never mention how long the electrical activity lasts though.

  7. naturally like your web-site but you need to take a
    look at the spelling on several of your posts. A number of them are
    rife with spelling problems and I in finding it very bothersome to tell
    the reality on the other hand I’ll surely come again again.

  8. Poor rats. Suffocating for science. Perhaps there is or will be a way to transcribe this electrical activity into images and audio as I have seen several articles of late describing transmitting thoughts from one brain to another electrically. Also I remember reading an article about rudimentary transcription of cat thoughts into images via the electrical processes.

  9. The problem with this conclusion is that NDEs will occur up to hours after a flat EEG. This has been corroborated by the doctors and nurses who have brought these people back. Kind of undercuts your thesis. Some day, the material reductionist will begin to really wrestle with the the theory of non-local consciousness. Time to dive into quantum physics.

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.