In patients with disorder of consciousness (DOC), the corpus callosum (CC) and subcortical white matter (SWM) integrity were shown to discriminate between diagnostic categories. The aims of the study were: (1) to clarify the link between the integrity of CC and of SWM and the clinical status in DOC patients, disentangling the role played by the different brain injuries (traumatic or hemorrhagic brain injury); (2) to investigate the relationship between the CC integrity and the brain metabolism. We assessed the diagnostic accuracy of the CC and SWM integrity, using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI), in a sample of DOC individuals, well balanced for diagnosis and etiology. The CC DTI-derived measures were correlated with the brain metabolism, computed with fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography. Our results showed that the CC macrostructural DTI-derived measures discriminate between diagnosis and correlate with the clinical status of DOC patients irrespective of the etiology. Moreover, the CC DTI-derived measures strongly correlate with the metabolism of the right hemisphere. No significant diagnostic accuracy emerged for the CC sMRI evaluation and the SWM measures. Our results indicate that: (1) the degree of the interhemispherical anatomical disconnection is a marker of the level of consciousness independent from the type of brain injury; (2) CC alterations might be the consequence of the reduced brain metabolism. Remarkably, our results suggest that the functional interplay between the two hemispheres is linked tightly to the level of consciousness.
Keywords: brain metabolism; corpus callosum; diffusion tensor imaging; disorders of consciousness; etiology.