question on biochemistry and neuroscience

Matt Jones jonesmat at
Mon Jun 3 12:35:13 EST 2002

"LeLeo" <leosuperb at> wrote in message news:<adf6dq$1dt3$1 at>...
> Hi,
> i am a undergraduate student majoring in biochemistry. I am about to start
> with my final year project and i want to concentrate on the issue of the
> relationship between biochemistry and consciousness as i feel very
> fundamental and intriguing. But i have received no lectures nor training,
> and my supervisor is not an expert in that area. So can anyone suggest how
> can i begin with my project ?
> Thank you very much !

Yes, you definitely need to be more specific. Consciousness is a
pretty big area, and not a very well-defined one.

The simplest starting point, it seems to me, is to examine an area in
which biochemstry can be observed to -change- consciousness in a clear
and unambiguous fashion.

One example might be the biochemstry of "consciousness-alterring"
drugs, like LSD. However, exactly what alterrations in consciousness
are produced by these drugs is complex and still not very

I think a simpler starting point is to examine the biochemstry of
drugs that (temporarily) -remove- consciousness altogether. This is a
lot easier than trying to tackle complicated subtle effects. With
these drugs, consciousness is either present or not present, depending
on the dose of the drug.

Luckily, the drugs I'm talking about are extremely common, are the
oldest class of modern therapeautic drugs, and their molecular sites
of action are starting to be worked out in fair detail (still an awful
lot unknown about them, though).

These drugs are the "general anesthetics" such as chloroform,
barbiturates, etc, that are used during surgery to prevent conscious
appreciation of the painful and traumatic surgery. Their action is

1) Block reflex movements
2) Block pain
3) Block memory
4) Block consciousness

It remains unclear whether all four effects have a single biochemical
cause, or multiple separate causes.

Anyway, try a medline search for "general anesthetics & consciousness"
to start with. Then to narrow it down to more mechanistic and
biochemical considerations, try a search for "Franks & Lieb" (two of
the main authors working on the biophysics of anesthesia).

Good luck,


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