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Scientists have solved the riddle of the syndrome of “alien body”

“My hand does not belong to me!” – This is not a quote from the thriller, but a description of one of the symptoms of the mysterious Cotard syndrome. People suffering from it are often convinced that they lack some parts of the body, or that they are generally … dead! Recently, Swedish researchers found that the culprit of a nightmare could be a seemingly innocuous remedy for herpes …

Kotar syndrome – the so-called official name for this ailment – according to doctors, is one of the varieties of depression. It is found quite rarely – at the same time all over the world it affects no more than several hundred people. The first such case was recorded in 1880 by the French neurologist Jules Cotard, in whose honor the disease subsequently got its name.

Manifestations of the disease can be very diverse. Some patients lose their ability to move limbs. Others cannot eat. Some try to commit suicide, for example, burn themselves with acid in order to “free” themselves from the “dead” flesh … In most cases, patients behave inappropriately.

This year, Stephen Laureis from the University of Liege (Belgium) first entered the brain of a patient with Cotard’s syndrome using the method of positron emission tomography to understand what processes are taking place there …

Often, patients with Kotar syndrome seem to have one or another part of their body dying. They feel that they cannot control their limbs, and sometimes they are convinced that they “live their own life” without obeying the brain. One woman who suffered from kidney failure somehow arrived at the clinic for another dialysis session in terrible turmoil. According to her, at first it seemed to her that she was dead. After an hour of dialysis, she became convinced that this was not so, but began to doubt whether her left hand belonged to her … True, after a few hours spent on the dialysis machine, there was a noticeable improvement. But strange sensations left this lady only a day later …

As it turned out later, this patient, in addition to sick kidneys, also suffered from herpes zoster, and she was prescribed the drug acyclovir, which we know more under the commercial name zovirax. It turns out that this seemingly harmless cure for herpes in 1 percent of cases causes mental abnormalities, including Cotard’s syndrome.

Anders Hellden of the Carolina Institute Hospital and Tumas Linden of the Salgren Academy (Sweden) found eight episodes in the medical archives when Kotar syndrome was detected in people taking acyclovir. Seven of them had kidney problems. If the dose of the drug was reduced or it was removed from the blood through dialysis, the symptoms disappeared …

What is the secret? According to doctors, the manifestations of the disease are affected by the level of CMMG – one of the decay products of acyclovir. People with Kotar syndrome had elevated levels of CMMG. As you know, with renal failure, the kidneys are not able to normally excrete decay products, including drugs, so patients are prescribed hemodialysis.

“Some patients have experienced very high blood pressure,” Hellden also commented. “Apparently, CMMG causes a narrowing of the arteries in the brain.”

Perhaps acyclovir may be the cause of other mental disorders, scientists say. The good news is that it allows you to “turn on” and “turn off” Cotard syndrome, introducing and removing metabolic products of the above drug from the body.

Of course, the experiments will not be carried out on humans, but on laboratory animals. The challenge is to identify the part of the brain that is responsible for self-awareness. With Kotar’s syndrome, a person’s perception of himself is distorted, so he may not feel his own body or its individual parts, an unreliable image of his own physical membrane is created in his brain …

Usually we control our body automatically, for example, move our arms and legs. But this requires that the brain perceives the limbs as an appendage of our body. With Cotard’s syndrome, he can perceive them as something alien and not amenable to the influence of our brain. Hence the feeling of “not your” flesh. Having figured out exactly which parts of the brain are responsible for this, doctors will be able to prescribe effective therapy, which will help sufferers to again feel the body “their own.”

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