Language-Related Brain Potentials in Patients With Disorders of Consciousness: A Follow-up Study to Detect “Covert” Language Disorders

Rita Formisano, Jlenia Toppi, Monica Risetti, Marta Aloisi, Marianna Contrada, Paola M. Ciurli, Chiara Falletta Caravasso, Giacomo Luccichenti, Laura Astolfi, Febo Cincotti, Donatella Mattia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background. Language disorders may occur in patients with disorders of consciousness (DoCs), and they could interfere with the behavioral assessment of consciousness and responsiveness. Objective. In this study, we retrospectively explored whether ERP N400 was eventually associated with the presence of aphasia diagnosed in those patients who had evolved into Exit-Minimally Conscious State (E-MCS) at the clinical follow-up. Methods. In this retrospective cohort study, the ERPs elicited by an auditory sentences task were retrospectively examined in a sample of 15 DoC patients diagnosed according to the Coma Recovery Scale–Revised (CRS-R). All these 15 DoC patients underwent a (at least) 1-year clinical follow-up, which included a neuropsychological evaluation to assess language function among other cognitive functions. Ten healthy individuals also underwent the same paradigm to investigate the variability of ERPs characteristics. Results. The N400 ERP component with centroparietal topography was found in 9 of 10 healthy controls in response to the ill-formed sentences. Analysis of patients’ data revealed that (1) a significant N400 component could be detected in 64% (9 of 14 patients) of the DoC patients regardless of the type of DoC; (2) no significant N400 ERP component was retrospectively detected in those E-MCS patients who showed aphasia at the follow-up; and (3) the presence/absence of the N400-ERP component was consistent with the brain lesion side and significantly predict the recovery. Conclusion. These preliminary findings indicate that the absence of N400 was significantly associated with the presence of aphasia diagnosed at the clinical follow-up in E-MCS patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeurorehabilitation and Neural Repair
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2019


  • disorders of consciousness
  • language disorders
  • N400 event-related potentials
  • severe acquired brain injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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