‘Wave of death’ may not be a last gasp

Brain may still be living a minute after decapitation

By Laura Sanders

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Electrodes capture a large wave of activity moving through rat brains about 50 seconds after decapitation.C. van Rijn et al/PLoS One 2011

Almost a minute after a rat’s head is severed from its body, an eerie shudder of activity ripples through the animal’s brain. Some researchers think this post-decapitation wave marks the border between life and death. But the phenomenon can be explained by electrical changes that, in some cases, are reversible, researchers report online July 13 in PLoS ONE.

Whether a similar kind of brain wave happens in humans, and if so, whether it is inextricably tied to death could have important implications. An unambiguous marker could help doctors better decide when to diagnose brain death, knowledge that could give clarity to loved ones and boost earlier organ donation.

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