Somatosensory evoked potentials in comatose patients: correlation with outcome and neuropathological findings

J Neurol. 1986 Feb;233(1):34-40. doi: 10.1007/BF00313989.


Subcortical and early cortical somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs) were recorded in 63 comatose patients and classified into five salient SEP grades, which were defined as follows: grade 1, normal SEP; grade 2, SEPs with a clearly recognizable scalp component N20, normal central conduction time but clearly distorted wave N20-P25; grade 3, SEPs with a still recognizable N20 but delayed central conduction time and severely altered wave N20-P25; grade 4, SEPs with absence of N20 but with a more or less recognizable P15; grade 5, SEPs with absence of both N20 and P15. When these five patterns were compared with outcome, it was found that bilaterally normal SEPs or only unilaterally distorted SEPs were generally followed by good outcomes. Bilaterally altered SEPs (grade 2 or 3) were indicative of reduced chances of full recovery. The great majority of patients showing either grade 4 or 5 SEPs died within a few days after the recording session. In 31 patients, it was found post mortem that grade-2 SEPs reflected cortical brain damage, whereas grade-3 SEPs correlated well with subcortical lesions. In post-traumatic patients, this SEP pattern corresponded to diffuse subcortical shearing lesions. Patients with grade 4 or 5 SEPs were found to have severe brain oedema giving rise to transtentorial herniation, which was combined with secondary midbrain haemorrhage and tonsillar herniation in all patients with bilateral grade-5 SEPs.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Aged
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / pathology
  • Brain Damage, Chronic / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Coma / pathology
  • Coma / physiopathology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia, Brain / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / physiopathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Reaction Time / physiology