Consciousness: a neurosurgical perspective

Michal M. Andelman-Gur, Itzhak Fried*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Neurosurgeons are in a unique position to shed light on the neural basis for consciousness, not only by their clinical care of patients with compromised states of consciousness, but also by employing neurostimulation and neuronal recordings through intracranial electrodes in awake surgical patients, as well as during stages of sleep and anethesia. In this review, we discuss several aspects of consciousness, i.e., perception, memory, and willed actions, studied by electrical stimulation and single neuron recordings in the human brain. We demonstrate how specific neuronal activity underlie the emergence of concepts, memories, and intentions in human consciousness. We discuss the representation of specific conscious content by temporal lobe neurons and present the discovery of “concept cells” and the encoding and retrieval of memories by neurons in the medial temporal lobe. We review prefrontal and parietal neuronal activation that precedes conscious intentions to act. Taken together with other studies in the field, these findings suggest that specific conscious experience may arise from stochastic fluctuations of neuronal activity, reaching a dynamic threshold. Advances in brain recording and stimulation technology coupled with the rapid rise in artificial intelligence are likely to increase the amount and analysis capabilities of data obtained from the human brain, thereby improving the decoding of conscious and preconscious states and open new horizons for modulation of human cognitive functions such as memory and volition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2729-2735
Number of pages7
JournalActa Neurochirurgica
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • Concept cells
  • Consciousness
  • Medial frontal lobe
  • Medial temporal lobe
  • Single-neuron recordings
  • Volition


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