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Seeing with the eyes shut: Neural basis of enhanced imagery following ayahuasca ingestion

Authors

  • Draulio B. de Araujo,

    Corresponding author
    1. Brain Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), Natal, RN, Brazil
    2. Division of Radiology, Onofre Lopes University Hospital (UFRN), Natal, RN, Brazil
    3. Ribeirao Preto School of Medicine and National Institute for Tanslational Medicine (INCT-TM, CNPq), University of Sao Paulo (USP), Ribeirao Preto, SP, Brazil
    • Brain Institute (UFRN), R. Nascimento Castro, 2155, 59056-450, Natal, RN, Brazil
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  • Sidarta Ribeiro,

    1. Brain Institute, Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), Natal, RN, Brazil
    2. Edmond and Lily Safra International Institute of Neuroscience of Natal (ELS-IINN), Natal, RN, Brazil
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  • Guillermo A. Cecchi,

    1. Computational Biology Center, T.J. Watson IBM Research Center, Yorktown Heights, NY, USA
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  • Fabiana M. Carvalho,

    1. Ribeirao Preto School of Medicine and National Institute for Tanslational Medicine (INCT-TM, CNPq), University of Sao Paulo (USP), Ribeirao Preto, SP, Brazil
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  • Tiago A. Sanchez,

    1. Department of Radiology, Faculty of Medicine, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil
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  • Joel P. Pinto,

    1. Ribeirao Preto School of Medicine and National Institute for Tanslational Medicine (INCT-TM, CNPq), University of Sao Paulo (USP), Ribeirao Preto, SP, Brazil
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  • Bruno S. de Martinis,

    1. Ribeirao Preto School of Medicine and National Institute for Tanslational Medicine (INCT-TM, CNPq), University of Sao Paulo (USP), Ribeirao Preto, SP, Brazil
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  • Jose A. Crippa,

    1. Ribeirao Preto School of Medicine and National Institute for Tanslational Medicine (INCT-TM, CNPq), University of Sao Paulo (USP), Ribeirao Preto, SP, Brazil
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  • Jaime E.C. Hallak,

    1. Ribeirao Preto School of Medicine and National Institute for Tanslational Medicine (INCT-TM, CNPq), University of Sao Paulo (USP), Ribeirao Preto, SP, Brazil
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  • Antonio C. Santos

    1. Ribeirao Preto School of Medicine and National Institute for Tanslational Medicine (INCT-TM, CNPq), University of Sao Paulo (USP), Ribeirao Preto, SP, Brazil
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Abstract

The hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca, a rich source of serotonergic agonists and reuptake inhibitors, has been used for ages by Amazonian populations during religious ceremonies. Among all perceptual changes induced by Ayahuasca, the most remarkable are vivid “seeings.” During such seeings, users report potent imagery. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging during a closed-eyes imagery task, we found that Ayahuasca produces a robust increase in the activation of several occipital, temporal, and frontal areas. In the primary visual area, the effect was comparable in magnitude to the activation levels of natural image with the eyes open. Importantly, this effect was specifically correlated with the occurrence of individual perceptual changes measured by psychiatric scales. The activity of cortical areas BA30 and BA37, known to be involved with episodic memory and the processing of contextual associations, was also potentiated by Ayahuasca intake during imagery. Finally, we detected a positive modulation by Ayahuasca of BA 10, a frontal area involved with intentional prospective imagination, working memory and the processing of information from internal sources. Therefore, our results indicate that Ayahuasca seeings stem from the activation of an extensive network generally involved with vision, memory, and intention. By boosting the intensity of recalled images to the same level of natural image, Ayahuasca lends a status of reality to inner experiences. It is therefore understandable why Ayahuasca was culturally selected over many centuries by rain forest shamans to facilitate mystical revelations of visual nature. Hum Brain Mapp, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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