Resting brain activity in disorders of consciousness: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Neurology. 2015 Mar 24;84(12):1272-80. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001404. Epub 2015 Feb 20.


Objective: To quantitatively synthesize results from neuroimaging studies that evaluated patterns of resting functional activity in patients with disorders of consciousness (DOC).

Methods: We performed a systematic review and coordinate-based meta-analysis of studies published up to May 2014. Studies were included if they compared resting-state functional neuroimaging data acquired in patients with DOC (coma, minimally conscious state, emergence from minimally conscious state, or vegetative state) with a group of healthy controls. Coordinate-based meta-analysis was performed in studies that included voxel-based comparisons at the whole-brain level and if analysis was accomplished with data-driven approaches.

Results: A total of 36 studies (687 patients, 637 healthy controls) were included in the systematic review. Reported DOC were vegetative state (43.2%), coma (23.4%), minimally conscious state (22.8%), and emergence from minimally conscious state (1.6%); the most common etiologies of DOC were traumatic brain injury (37.7%) and anoxic brain injury (36.9%). Functional neuroimaging was accomplished using fMRI (16 studies), PET (15 studies), SPECT (4 studies), and both PET and SPECT in one study. Meta-analysis in 13 studies (272 patients, 259 healthy controls) revealed consistently reduced activity in patients with DOC in bilateral medial dorsal nucleus of the thalamus, left cingulate, posterior cingulate, precuneus, and middle frontal and medial temporal gyri.

Conclusions: In patients with DOC evaluated in the resting state, functional neuroimaging indicates markedly reduced activity within midline cortical and subcortical sites, anatomical structures that have been linked to the default-mode network. Studies are needed to determine the relation between activation (and coherence) within these structures and the emergence of conscious awareness.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Consciousness Disorders / etiology
  • Consciousness Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Functional Neuroimaging*
  • Humans