One way to understand consciousness is its perturbation, either (1) transiently by anesthesia, and (2) permanently by neurodegenerative diseases. In this workshop, we will explore research on how anesthetics mediate loss or perturbation of consciousness, what processes are at play in normal activities leading to consciousness, and links to neurodegenerative disease. This discussion will take us from higher level neuroscientific approaches to the understanding of general anesthesia inwards towards the subcellular workings of neurons, and down the quantum level events through a series of five talks by world leading experts in the field.
Polytechnic University of Torino, Italy
Travis Craddock (chair)
Nova Southeastern University, Florida, USA
Polytechnic University of Torino, Italy
Department of Philosophy
University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
Center for Consciousness Studies
Univesity of Arizona at Tucson, USA
University Hospital Zurich
University of Zurich, Switzerland
Anesthesia and Consciousness
This contribution takes a neuroscience approach, reviewing the effects of general anesthetics on the neural substrates of wakefulness and awareness. Anesthesia has been discovered in 1860. Since then Scientific investigations have been conducted at any biological level, from system to Nano scale microtubules, to define the neural correlates of the hypnotic component of general anesthetic, without conclusive results. Now we are going quantum.
Marco Cavaglia received his MD from the University of Torino School of Medicine and Surgery, Torino, Italy. Following this he completed a residency at the University of Torino School of Specialty in Anesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, Torino, Italy. His PhD was completed at the Insubria University Department of BioMedicine, Varese, Italy.
Molecular Modelling to Investigate Protein Folding Dynamics and Kinetics in Neurodegenerative Diseases
Proteins are fascinating molecular machines capable of organizing themselves into well-defined hierarchical structures through a huge number of conformational changes to accomplish a wide range of cellular functions. Moreover, the alternative protein conformations may enable the exposition of hydrophobic protein domains, increasing aberrant aggregation risk. This is the case of amyloidogenic proteins, where a direct correlation between thermodynamic stability and the propensity for amyloid fibril formation is widely demonstrated. As a consequence, determining protein dynamics, folding kinetics and thermodynamics represents a significant scientific challenge for both experimental and computational approaches to date. Molecular modeling may play a key role in describing protein tendencies towards specific conformational rearrangements and protein-protein organization. Approaching this problem from an energetic point of view is of great importance especially in case of amyloidogenic proteins, given the intimate interconnection between the functional energy landscape and aggregation risk. In this connection, insight can be obtained on protein conformational dynamics and kinetics by structural molecular modelling. This work focuses on classical and enhanced sampling molecular dynamics techniques applied to investigate protein fibrillogenesis in spinocerebellar Ataxia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Marco Deriu received his Master Degree cum laude in Biomedical Engineering at Politecnico di Milano in 2005. He has received the European Doctorate in Biomedical Engineering in 2009 at Politecnico di Torino. His main fields of interest focus on computational modelling of biological, active biomimetic and bioartificial systems at molecular scale using several different multiscale approaches. Today he holds the position of Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Torino, Italy.
The Cytoskeletal Effects of Anesthesia and Oxidative Stress in Tauopathic Disease and Consciousness
Oxidative stress is a pathological hallmark of neurodegenerative and is associated with ultraweak photon emission within cells. This contribution focuses on recent modeling efforts showing that cytoskeletal protein polymers in neurons can feasibly absorb and channel these photoexcitations via resonant energy transfer, on the order of dendritic length scales and neuronal fine structure. Additionally, we show how anesthetic molecules can impair this energy transfer, thus accounting for selective action of anesthetics on consciousness and memory.
Travis Craddock received a MSc and PhD in the field of biophysics at the University of Alberta in 2008 and 2012, respectively. Following this he completed a one year post-doctoral training in systems biology in the University of Alberta, Department of Medicine. Dr. Craddock joined Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2013, where he is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, and Director of Clinical Systems Biology in the Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine. His current research activities focus on using computation and theory to understand the underlying molecular neuro-inflammatory regulation of exposures to neurotoxins, such as anesthesia and nerve agents, in order to improve treatment strategies.
Using Neurophotonics to Investigate Anesthesia, Neurodegenerative Disease, and Neural Correlates of Consciousness in Humans
Constitutive panpsychism is the doctrine that macro-level consciousness is built out of irreducibly mental (or proto-mental) features had by some or all of the ultimate physical constituents of reality. I pose the ‘selection problem’ for constitutive panpsychism: the problem of explaining why/how macro-level consciousness changes over time. For the constitutive panpsychist, changes in macro-level consciousness amount to changes in either the way that micro-conscious entities ‘bond’ or the way that micro-conscious qualities ‘blend’ (or both). We have learned from contemporary neurobiology that changes in consciousness are dependent on high-level functional states of the brain. I argue that it is empirically implausible that any mediating mechanism connects high-level functional states of the brain with changes in bonding/blending at the micro-level, and thus that the selection problem is unsolvable.
Felix Scholkmann received his PhD at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, in 2014. A postdoc and research associate at the Biomedical Optics Research Laboratory of the University Hospital Zurich as well as at the University of Bern, his research focuses on biomedical signal processing, biomedical optics (development and application of cerebral NIRS oximetry and fNIRS), neuroscience (neurophotonics), biophysics (bioelectromagnetics and photobiology) and integrative human physiology (integrated physiological measurement, computational modelling). He completed research stays at universities and institutions in the UK, Germany, Japan, Korea, Italy and the Netherlands.
Quantum Biology and Consciousness - The State of the Debate
Recently, functional quantum states and entanglement have been discovered in photosynthesis, among bacteria, bird navigation, microtubule resonances and anesthetic action. The quantum states originate in non-polar solubility regions inside proteins including microtubules where anesthetics act to specifically erase consciousness. Evidence in this direction has diversified with biological experiments, quantum optics, computer modeling of microtubule quantum states, anesthesia action, microtubule information processing, temporal nonlocality in language and cognition, nuclear spin and quantum coherent MRI. Implications for the Orch OR theory and understanding of consciousness will be discussed.
Stuart Hameroff earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, and received his MD at Hahnemann in Philadelphia in 1973. He then moved to Tucson, where in 1975 he became the sixth resident in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of Arizona, and joining the faculty in 1977. He is currently Professor Emeritus of Anesthesiology and Psychology, and Director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona.