The clinical utility of fMRI for identifying covert awareness in the vegetative state: a comparison of sensitivity between 3T and 1.5T

PLoS One. 2014 Apr 14;9(4):e95082. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0095082. eCollection 2014.


In the last few years, mental imagery fMRI paradigms have been used successfully to identify covert command-following and awareness in some patients who are thought to be entirely vegetative. However, to date there is only evidence supporting their use at magnetic fields of 3T, which limits their applicability in clinical settings where lower field strengths are typically used. Here, we test the 'gold standard' fMRI paradigm for detecting residual awareness in non-responsive patients by comparing its sensitivity at 1.5T and 3T in the same group of healthy volunteers. We were able to successfully detect brain activity showing command-following in most participants at both 3T and 1.5T, with similar reliability. These results demonstrate that fMRI assessment of covert awareness is clinically viable and therefore justify a broader use of these methods in standard assessments in severely brain injured patients.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagery, Psychotherapy
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology
  • Persistent Vegetative State / physiopathology*
  • Spatial Navigation
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Young Adult