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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Anesthesiology and Pain Management

Decapitation in Rats: Latency to Unconsciousness and the ‘Wave of Death’
Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011
Author: Clementina M. van. Rijn et al.

by Clementina M. van. Rijn, Hans Krijnen, Saskia Menting-Hermeling, Anton M. L. Coenen

The question whether decapitation is a humane method of euthanasia in awake animals is being debated. To gather arguments in this debate, obsolete rats were decapitated while recording the EEG, both of awake rats and of anesthetized rats. Following decapitation a fast and global loss of power of the EEG was observed; the power in the 13–100 Hz frequency band, expressing cognitive activity, decreased according to an exponential decay function to half the initial value within 4 seconds. Whereas the pre-decapitation EEG of the anesthetized animals showed a burst suppression pattern quite different from the awake animals, the power in the postdecapitation EEG did not differ between the two groups. This might indicate that either the power of the EEG does not correlate well with consciousness or that consciousness is briefly regained in the anesthetized group after decapitation. Remarkably, after 50 seconds (awake group) or 80 seconds (anesthetized group) following decapitation, a high amplitude slow wave was observed. The EEG before this wave had more power than the signal after the wave. This wave might be due to a simultaneous massive loss of membrane potentials of the neurons. Still functioning ion channels, which keep the membrane potential intact before the wave, might explain the observed power difference. Two conclusions were drawn from this experiment. It is likely that consciousness vanishes within seconds after decapitation, implying that decapitation is a quick and not an inhumane method of euthanasia. It seems that the massive wave which can be recorded approximately one minute after decapitation reflects the ultimate border between life and death. This observation might have implications in the discussions on the appropriate time for organ donation.
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