Object: In this retrospective study, the authors analyzed the frequency, anatomical distribution, and appearance of traumatic brain lesions in 42 patients in a posttraumatic persistent vegetative state.
Methods: Cerebral magnetic resonance (MR) imaging was used to detect the number of lesions, which ranged from as few as five to as many as 19, with a mean of 11 lesions. In all 42 cases there was evidence on MR imaging of diffuse axonal injury, and injury to the corpus callosum was detected in all patients. The second most common area of diffuse axonal injury involved the dorsolateral aspect of the rostral brainstem (74% of patients). In addition, 65% of these patients exhibited white matter injury in the corona radiata and the frontal and temporal lobes. Lesions to the basal ganglia or thalamus were seen in 52% and 40% of patients, respectively. Magnetic resonance imaging showed some evidence of cortical contusion in 48% of patients in this study; the frontal and temporal lobes were most frequently involved. Injury to the parahippocampal gyrus was detected in 45% of patients; in this subgroup there was an 80% incidence of contralateral peduncular lesions in the midbrain. The most common pattern of injury (74% in this series) was the combination of focal lesions of the corpus callosum and the dorsolateral brainstem. In patients with no evidence of diffuse axonal injury in the upper brainstem (26% in this series), callosal lesions were most often associated with basal ganglia lesions. Lesions of the corona radiata and lobar white matter were equally distributed in patients with or without dorsolateral brainstem injury. Moreover, cortical contusions and thalamic, parahippocampal, and cerebral peduncular lesions were also similarly distributed in both groups.
Conclusions: The data indicate that diffuse axonal injury may be the major form of primary brain damage in the posttraumatic persistent vegetative state. In addition, the authors demonstrated in this study that MR imaging, in conjunction with a precise clinical correlation, may provide useful supportive information for the accurate diagnosis of a persistent vegetative state after traumatic brain injury.