Background: The early post-traumatic vegetative state (VS) is compatible with recovery. Various clinical and laboratory tests have failed to predict recovery so we assessed the value of cerebral magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) in prediction of recovery.
Methods: 80 adult patients in post-traumatic VS had cerebral MRI between 6 weeks and 8 weeks after injury. MRIs were reviewed by three neuroradiologists for the number, sizes, and location of brain lesions. Three neurologists assessed the patients at the time of MRI and at 2 months, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months, and 12 months after injury using the Glasgow Outcome Scale.
Findings: At 12 months, 38 patients had recovered while 42 patients remained in the VS. The demographic characteristics and causes and severity of injury were similar in patients in persistent VS (PVS) and those who recovered (NPVS). An average of 6.1 different brain areas were injured in patients in PVS compared with 4.6 areas in patients who had NPVS. Patients in PVS revealed a significantly higher frequency of corpus callosum, corona radiata, and dorsolateral brainstem injuries than did patients who recovered. Logistic regression analysis showed that corpus callosum and dorsolateral brainstem injuries were predictive of non-recovery. The adjusted odds ratios for non-recovery of patients with a corpus callosum lesion and dorsolateral brainstem injury were 213.8 (95% CI 14.2-3213.3), and 6.9 (11-42.9), respectively. In contrast, clinical characteristics, such as initial score on the Glasgow Coma Scale, age, and pupillary abnormalities failed to predict recovery.
Interpretation: Cerebral MRI findings in the subacute stage after head injury can predict the outcome of the post-traumatic VS. Corpus callosum and dorsolateral brainstem lesions are highly significant in predicting non-recovery.