Across the consciousness continuum-from unresponsive wakefulness to sleep

Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Mar 10:9:105. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00105. eCollection 2015.


Advances in the development of new paradigms as well as in neuroimaging techniques nowadays enable us to make inferences about the level of consciousness patients with disorders of consciousness (DOC) retain. They, moreover, allow to predict their probable development. Today, we know that certain brain responses (e.g., event-related potentials or oscillatory changes) to stimulation, circadian rhythmicity, the presence or absence of sleep patterns as well as measures of resting state brain activity can serve the diagnostic and prognostic evaluation process. Still, the paradigms we are using nowadays do not allow to disentangle VS/UWS and minimally conscious state (MCS) patients with the desired reliability and validity. Furthermore, even rather well-established methods have, unfortunately, not found their way into clinical routine yet. We here review current literature as well as recent findings from our group and discuss how neuroimaging methods (fMRI, PET) and particularly electroencephalography (EEG) can be used to investigate cognition in DOC or even to assess the degree of residual awareness. We, moreover, propose that circadian rhythmicity and sleep in brain-injured patients are promising fields of research in this context.

Keywords: circadian rhythms; disorders of consciousness (DOC); electroencephalography (EEG); resting state; sleep.

Publication types

  • Review