What happens to the brain during death? They discover reaction of the organ in the last moments of life

Knowing what people see or feel when they die is a question highly theorized by science and the world’s population. Hence, the mythical “light at the end of the tunnel” has transcended popular culture. A researcher sought to answer that question by analyzing what happens to the brain during death.

That search was orchestrated by neuroscientist Jimo Borjigin, who was lucky enough to demonstrate what was happening to the brains of two rats in their last moments. When it happened, the researcher was not investigating this hypothesis, she was only monitoring these animals after surgery.

By being connected to machines that evaluated their state of life, they were able to see the effect their death had. At that moment she managed to perceive “a massive secretion of serotonin,” which is the neurotransmitter of happiness.

What happens in the brain with death?

In a conversation with BBC News, the scientist said that after demonstrating what happened to the rats, she began to review medical literature on death, noting that “we know very little about the process of dying.”

That is why in 2013 he conducted research on these same animals, which revealed intense neurotransmitter activity after their hearts stopped beating and their brains no longer received oxygen.

“Serotonin increased 60 times; dopamine, which is a feel-good chemical, increased 40 to 60 times; norepinephrine, which makes you very alert, also increased,” Borjigin said, adding that these high levels were not observed when the animal was alive.

Then in 2015, he tried it again. Together with a team, he demonstrated that this vital organ of the body developed intense activity when the rats were dying. “The brain was in a hyperactive state,” she said.

Human experimentation

Last year, the researcher and other scientists published research that analyzed what happens to the brain at the time of death, with four patients who were in a coma due to different diseases as objects of study.

The people were on life support and had electroencephalography electrodes. Because they were terminal patients, families and doctors authorized them to be disconnected from mechanical ventilators or respirators.

After this measure, it was detected that two of them had high brain activity linked to cognitive functions when they were disconnected. Specifically, gamma waves were detected, which are brain waves associated with complex information and memory processing.

Likewise, the researcher pointed out that a patient presented generalized hypoxia after being disconnected, which is linked to cardiac arrest due to a lack of oxygen in the blood.

“Hypoxia seems to be the unifying theme for activating the brain. And as soon as the ventilators were removed, the brains of two of the four patients activated in seconds,” Borjigin explained.

Unlike what happened with animals, which developed complete activation of the brain, in humans, it was reduced to only some conscious parts. One of them, the so-called “posterior cortical hot zone,” is associated with “sensory perception,” the scientist said. This part of the brain is also linked to consciousness, dreams, and hallucinations.

Along with this, they found that Wernicke’s area was activated, which is related to language, speaking, listening, and other cognitive functions, such as memory storage.

The researcher also pointed out that the temporoparietal junction, one of the parts of the brain that was activated by death, has been related to the development of empathy. “Many patients who have survived cardiac arrest and who have had near-death experiences say that those experiences changed them for the better, that they feel more empathy,” she said.