The aim of this study was to evaluate whether the auditory brain stem responses (ABR) and short latency somatosensory potentials (SEP) from median nerve stimulation are effective tools in the confirmation of brain death. Thirty six brain dead patients were submitted to ABR and 24 to SEP in the same session. All waves of the ABR were absent in 28 (77.8 per cent) patients, while only wave I was present in the others (22.2 per cent). In SEP recordings the components later than P13 were absent in 17 (70.8 per cent) of cases; in the remaining seven patients (29.2 per cent) a N13/P13 dissociation (namely, retention of the cervical N13 and absence of the far-field P13) was found. The results suggest that SEP and ABR are reliable tools in the diagnosis of brain death and should be included in the criteria: they enable the functional status of two pathways in the brainstem to be checked, which cannot be explored by the clinical examination.
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