Diagnosis of patients with a disorder of consciousness is very challenging. Previous studies investigating resting state networks demonstrate that 2 main features of the so-called default mode network (DMN), metabolism and functional connectivity, are impaired in patients with a disorder of consciousness. However, task-induced deactivation--a third main feature of the DMN--has not been explored in a group of patients. Deactivation of the DMN is supposed to reflect interruptions of introspective processes. Seventeen patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS, former vegetative state), 8 patients in minimally conscious state (MCS), and 25 healthy controls were investigated with functional magnetic resonance imaging during a passive sentence listening task. Results show that deactivation in medial regions is reduced in MCS and absent in UWS patients compared to healthy controls. Moreover, behavioral scores assessing the level of consciousness correlate with deactivation in patients. On single-subject level, all control subjects but only 2 patients in MCS and 6 with UWS exposed deactivation. Interestingly, all patients who deactivated during speech processing (except for one) showed activation in left frontal regions which are associated with conscious processing. Our results indicate that deactivation of the DMN can be associated with the level of consciousness by selecting those who are able to interrupt ongoing introspective processes. In consequence, deactivation of the DMN may function as a marker of consciousness.
Useful keywords (using NLM MeSH Indexing)
Magnetic Resonance Imaging/methods*