Challenges and Pitfalls Associated with Diagnostic and Prognostic Applications of Functional Neuroimaging in Disorders of Consciousness

Open Neuroimag J. 2016 May 13;10:23-31. doi: 10.2174/1874440001610010023. eCollection 2016.


The diagnostic assessment of patients with disorder of consciousness is currently based on clinical testing at the bedside and prone to a high error rate in the assessment of the degree of conscious awareness. Investigation of more objective assessment strategies, such as the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to detect conscious awareness, are becoming increasingly popular in the research community. However, inherent challenges to the use of fMRI threaten its validity as a diagnostic tool and will need to be resolved prior to its integration into the clinical setting. These challenges, which range from the heterogeneity of the patient sample to factors influencing data acquisition and biases in interpretation strategies, are discussed below. Recommendations aimed at mitigating some of the limitations are provided.

Keywords: Blood-oxygen level dependent signal; disorders of consciousness; functional magnetic resonance imaging; minimally conscious state; vegetative state.