Improving our ability to detect conscious processing in non communicating patients remains a major goal of clinical cognitive neurosciences. In this perspective, several functional brain imaging tools are currently under development. Bedside cognitive event-related potentials (ERPs) derived from the EEG signal are a good candidate to explore consciousness in these patients because: (1) they have an optimal time resolution within the millisecond range able to monitor the stream of consciousness, (2) they are fully non-invasive and relatively cheap, (3) they can be recorded continuously on dedicated individual systems to monitor consciousness and to communicate with patients, (4) and they can be used to enrich patients' autonomy through brain-computer interfaces. We recently designed an original auditory rule extraction ERP test that evaluates cerebral responses to violations of temporal regularities that are either local in time or global across several seconds. Local violations led to an early response in auditory cortex, independent of attention or the presence of a concurrent visual task, while global violations led to a late and spatially distributed response that was only present when subjects were attentive and aware of the violations. In the present work, we report the results of this test in 65 successive recordings obtained at bedside from 49 non-communicating patients affected with various acute or chronic neurological disorders. At the individual level, we confirm the high specificity of the 'global effect': only conscious patients presented this proposed neural signature of conscious processing. Here, we also describe in details the respective neural responses elicited by violations of local and global auditory regularities, and we report two additional ERP effects related to stimuli expectancy and to task learning, and we discuss their relations to consciousness.
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