Pharmacotherapy for disorders of consciousness: Are 'Awakening' drugs really a possibility?

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Disorders of consciousness, including the coma state, vegetative state and minimally conscious state, are among the least understood and least curable conditions in modern neurology. Structural or functional injuries may produce impairments in the neuronal circuits (the ascending reticular activating system and thalamocortical loops) responsible for maintaining the wakefulness state and awareness, associated with a change in neurotransmitter concentrations. Pharmacological agents that are able to restore the levels of neurotransmitters and, consequently, neural synaptic plasticity and functional connectivity of consciousness networks, may play an important role as drugs useful in improving the consciousness state. Currently, there is growing interest in the scientific community with regard to pharmacological agents that act on the gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA) system, such as zolpidem and baclofen, and monoamine systems, such as dopaminergic agents and some antidepressants. The purpose of this article is to provide a comprehensive overview of these potential 'awakening' drugs in patients with disorders of consciousness. The possible mechanisms by which these drugs may exert their effects in promoting recovery of consciousness are discussed, highlighting how many findings are often the result of sporadic events rather than prospective controlled trials or implementation of standard treatment guidelines.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1849-1862
Number of pages14
Issue number17
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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