Auditory processing in severely brain injured patients: differences between the minimally conscious state and the persistent vegetative state

Arch Neurol. 2004 Feb;61(2):233-8. doi: 10.1001/archneur.61.2.233.


Background: The minimally conscious state (MCS) is a recently defined clinical condition; it differs from the persistent vegetative state (PVS) by the presence of inconsistent, but clearly discernible, behavioral evidence of consciousness.

Objective: To study auditory processing among patients who are in an MCS, patients who are in a PVS, and healthy control subjects.

Methods: By means of (15)O-radiolabeled water-positron emission tomography, we measured changes in regional cerebral blood flow induced by auditory click stimuli in 5 patients in an MCS, 15 patients in a PVS, and 18 healthy controls.

Results: In both patients in an MCS and the healthy controls, auditory stimulation activated bilateral superior temporal gyri (Brodmann areas 41, 42, and 22). In patients in a PVS, the activation was restricted to Brodmann areas 41 and 42 bilaterally. We also showed that, compared with patients in a PVS, patients in an MCS demonstrated a stronger functional connectivity between the secondary auditory cortex and temporal and prefrontal association cortices.

Conclusions: Although assumptions about the level of consciousness in severely brain injured patients are difficult to make, our findings suggest that the cerebral activity observed in patients in an MCS is more likely to lead to higher-order integrative processes, thought to be necessary for the gain of conscious auditory perception.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Radioisotopes
  • Persistent Vegetative State / physiopathology
  • Persistent Vegetative State / psychology*
  • Psychophysiology
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed


  • Oxygen Radioisotopes