Tests conducted on Israel's Ariel Sharon reveal significant brain activity

January 29, 2013
Ariel Sharon.

A team of American and Israeli brain scientists tested former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to assess his brain responses, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Surprisingly, Sharon showed significant brain activity.

The team consisted of Martin Monti, an assistant professor of psychology and neurosurgery at UCLA, professors Alon Friedman, Galia Avidan and Tzvi Ganel of the Zlotowski Center for Neuroscience at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Dr. Ilan Shelef, head of medical imaging at Israel's Soroka University Medical Center.

The 84-year-old Sharon, presumed to be in a vegetative state since suffering a in 2006, was scanned last week to assess the extent and quality of his brain processing, using methods recently developed by Monti and his colleagues. The test lasted approximately two hours.

The scientists showed Sharon pictures of his family, had him listen to his son's voice and used tactile stimulation to assess the extent to which his brain responded to .

To their surprise, significant brain activity was observed in each test, in specific brain regions, indicating appropriate processing of these stimulations, Monti said.

The scientists conducted three tests to assess Sharon's level of consciousness. They asked him to imagine he was hitting a tennis ball and to imagine he was walking through the rooms of his home. They also showed him a photograph of a face superimposed on a photo of a house, asking him to focus first on the face and then on the house. The scientists found encouraging, but subtle, signs of consciousness.

"Information from the external world is being transferred to the appropriate parts of Mr. Sharon's . However, the evidence does not as clearly indicate whether Mr. Sharon is consciously perceiving this information," Monti said. "We found faint indicating that he was complying with the tasks. He may be minimally conscious, but the results were weak and should be interpreted with caution."

Tzvi Ganel, who initiated the project, stressed that Sharon's family wished to employ these new techniques not only for the benefit of the former prime minister but also for other families in a similar situation.

Explore further: Can new diagnostic approaches help assess brain function in unconscious, brain-injured patients?

More information: For more news, visit the UCLA Newsroom and follow us on Twitter.

Related Stories

When the brain remembers but the patient doesn't

July 14, 2011

Brain damage can cause significant changes in behaviour, such as loss of cognitive skills, but also reveals much about how the nervous system deals with consciousness. New findings reported in the July 2011 issue of Elsevier's ...

Recommended for you

How even our brains get 'slacker' as we age

October 24, 2016

New research from Newcastle University, UK, in collaboration with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, investigated the way the human brain folds and how this 'cortical folding' changes with age.

How lying takes our brains down a 'slippery slope'

October 24, 2016

Telling small lies desensitises our brains to the associated negative emotions and may encourage us to tell bigger lies in future, reveals new UCL research funded by Wellcome and the Center for Advanced Hindsight.

Robotic tutors for primary school children

October 24, 2016

The use of robotic tutors in primary school classrooms is one step closer according to research recently published in the open access journal Frontiers in Computational Neuroscience.

Mouse decision-making more complex than once thought

October 24, 2016

Working with dot-counting mice running through a virtual-reality maze, scientists from Harvard Medical School have found that in order to navigate space rodent brains rely on a cascade of neural signals that culminate in ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.