Objective: Understanding residual brain function in disorders of consciousness poses extraordinary challenges, and imaging examinations are needed to complement clinical assessment. The default-mode network (DMN) is known to be dysfunctional, although correlation with level of consciousness remains controversial. We investigated DMN activity with resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI), alongside its structural and metabolic integrity, aiming to elucidate the corresponding associations with clinical assessment. Methods: We enrolled 119 consecutive patients: 72 in a vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness state (VS/UWS), 36 in a minimally conscious state (MCS), and 11 with severe disability. All underwent structural MRI and rs-fMRI, and a subset also underwent 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (FDG-PET). Data were analyzed with manual and automatic approaches, in relation to diagnosis and clinical score. Results: Excluding the quartile with largest head movement, DMN activity was decreased in VS/UWS compared to MCS, and correlated with clinical score. Independent-component and seed-based analyses provided similar results, although the latter and their combination were most informative. Structural MRI and FDG-PET were less sensitive to head movement and had better diagnostic accuracy than rs-fMRI only when all cases were included. rs-fMRI indicated relatively preserved DMN activity in a small subset of VS/UWS patients, 2 of whom evolved to MCS. The integrity of the left hemisphere appears to be predictive of a better clinical status. Interpretation: rs-fMRI of the DMN is sensitive to clinical severity. The effect is consistent across data analysis approaches, but heavily dependent on head movement. rs-fMRI could be informative in detecting residual DMN activity for those patients who remain relatively still during scanning and whose diagnosis is uncertain.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology