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Preserved consciousness in vegetative and minimal conscious states: systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Daniel Kondziella1,2,
  2. Christian K Friberg3,
  3. Vibe G Frokjaer4,
  4. Martin Fabricius3,
  5. Kirsten Møller5
  1. 1Department of Neurology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark
  2. 2Institute of Neuroscience, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
  3. 3Department of Clinical Neurophysiology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark
  4. 4Neurobiology Research Unit, Copenhagen University Hospital and Center for Integrated Molecular Brain Imaging, Copenhagen, Denmark
  5. 5Department of Neuroanesthesiology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen, Denmark
  1. Correspondence to Dr Daniel Kondziella, Department of Neurology, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, Copenhagen DK-2100, Denmark; daniel_kondziella{at}


Active, passive and resting state paradigms using functional MRI (fMRI) or EEG may reveal consciousness in the vegetative (VS) and the minimal conscious state (MCS). A meta-analysis was performed to assess the prevalence of preserved consciousness in VS and MCS as revealed by fMRI and EEG, including command following (active paradigms), cortical functional connectivity elicited by external stimuli (passive paradigms) and default mode networks (resting state). Studies were selected from multiple indexing databases until February 2015 and evaluated using the Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies-2. 37 studies were identified, including 1041 patients (mean age 43 years, range 16–89; male/female 2.1:1; 39.5% traumatic brain injuries). MCS patients were more likely than VS patients to follow commands during active paradigms (32% vs 14%; OR 2.85 (95% CI 1.90 to 4.27; p<0.0001)) and to show preserved functional cortical connectivity during passive paradigms (55% vs 26%; OR 3.53 (95% CI 2.49 to 4.99; p<0.0001)). Passive paradigms suggested preserved consciousness more often than active paradigms (38% vs 24%; OR 1.98 (95% CI 1.54 to 2.54; p<0.0001)). Data on resting state paradigms were insufficient for statistical evaluation. In conclusion, active paradigms may underestimate the degree of consciousness as compared to passive paradigms. While MCS patients show signs of preserved consciousness more frequently in both paradigms, roughly 15% of patients with a clinical diagnosis of VS are able to follow commands by modifying their brain activity. However, there remain important limitations at the single-subject level; for example, patients from both categories may show command following despite negative passive paradigms.

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