Self-related stimuli activate anterior parts of cortical midline regions, which normally show task-induced deactivation. Deactivation in medial posterior and frontal regions is associated with the ability to focus attention on the demands of the task, and therefore, with consciousness. Studies investigating patients with impaired consciousness, that is, patients in minimally conscious state and patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (formerly vegetative state), demonstrate that these patients show responses to self-related content in the anterior cingulate cortex. However, it remains unclear if these responses are an indication for conscious processing of stimuli or are due to automatic processing. To shed further light on this issue, we investigated responses of cortical midline regions to the own and another name in 27 patients with a disorder of consciousness and compared them to task-induced deactivation. While almost all of the control subjects responding to the own name demonstrated higher activation due to the self-related content in anterior midline regions and additional deactivation, none of the responding patients did so. Differences between groups showed a similar pattern of findings. Despite the relation between behavioral responsiveness in patients and activation in response to the own name, the findings of this study do not provide evidence for a direct association of activation in anterior midline regions and conscious processing. The deficits in processing of self-referential content in anterior midline regions may rather be due to general impairments in cognitive processing and not particularly linked to impaired consciousness.
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