The lack of direct neurophysiological recordings from the thalamus and the cortex hampers our understanding of vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and minimally conscious state in humans. We obtained microelectrode recordings from the thalami and the homolateral parietal cortex of two vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and one minimally conscious state patients during surgery for implantation of electrodes in both thalami for chronic deep brain stimulation. We found that activity of the thalamo-cortical networks differed among the two conditions. There were half the number of active neurons in the thalami of patients in vegetative state/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome than in minimally conscious state. Coupling of thalamic neuron discharge with EEG phases also differed in the two conditions and thalamo-cortical cross-frequency coupling was limited to the minimally conscious state patient. When consciousness is physiologically or pharmacologically reversibly suspended there is a significant increase in bursting activity of the thalamic neurons. By contrast, in the thalami of our patients in both conditions fewer than 17% of the recorded neurons showed bursting activity. This indicates that these conditions differ from physiological suspension of consciousness and that increased thalamic inhibition is not prominent. Our findings, albeit obtained in a limited number of patients, unveil the neurophysiology of these conditions at single unit resolution and might be relevant for inspiring novel therapeutic options.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)