Breakthrough on physical cause of vegetative state, other 'disorders of consciousness'

October 4, 2012

(Medical Xpress)—By exploring parts of the brain that trigger during periods of daydreaming and mind-wandering, neuroscientists from Western University have made a significant breakthrough in understanding what physically happens in the brain to cause vegetative state and other so-called "disorders of consciousness." 
 
Vegetative state and related disorders such as the minimally conscious state are amongst the least understood conditions in modern medicine because there is no particular type of brain damage that is known to cause them. This lack of knowledge leads to an alarmingly high level of misdiagnosis.

In support of the study titled, "A role for the default mode network in the bases of disorders of consciousness," Davinia Fernandez-Espejo, a post doctoral fellow at Western's Brain and Mind Institute, utilized a technique called tractography to investigate more than 50 patients suffering from varying degrees of brain injury.

This state-of-the-art (MRI) technique allows researchers to virtually reconstruct the pathways that connect different parts of the brain in the patients while detecting subtle differences in their brain damage.

Specifically, Fernandez-Espejo was able to show that in vegetative state patients, a group of known as the default mode network that are known to activate during periods of daydreaming and mind-wandering were significantly disconnected, relative to healthy individuals.

"These findings are a first step towards identifying biomarkers that will help us to improve diagnosis and to find possible therapies for these patients" says Fernandez-Espejo. "But they also give us new information about how the healthy brain generates consciousness."

The findings were released today in Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the and the Child Neurology Society. 

Explore further: New test may help distinguish between vegetative and minimally conscious state

Related Stories

New test may help distinguish between vegetative and minimally conscious state

May 13, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- In a new study published in Science, researchers from the University of Liege in Belgium, led by Dr. Melanie Boly, share the discovery of a new test that could aid physicians in differentiating between vegetative ...

Can new diagnostic approaches help assess brain function in unconscious, brain-injured patients?

May 9, 2012
Disorders of consciousness such as coma or a vegetative state caused by severe brain injury are poorly understood and their diagnosis has relied mainly on patient responses and measures of brain activity. However, new functional ...

WU researchers breakthrough with minimally conscious state patients

March 1, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Researchers from Western University have utilized their own game-changing technology – previously developed for use with patients in a vegetative state – to assess a more prevalent group of brain-injured ...

A combined method for detecting consciousness

January 9, 2012
The combination of transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroencephalography constitutes a new method allowing the traces of conscious activity to be revealed in brain injured patients.

Patients in a minimally conscious state remain capable of dreaming during their sleep

August 16, 2011
The question of sleep in patients with seriously altered states of consciousness has rarely been studied. Do ‘vegetative' patients (now also called patients in a state of unresponsive wakefulness) or minimally conscious ...

How the brain processes humour helps us understand emotions felt by vegetative state patients

July 7, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- How the human brain processes jokes may help researchers determine if a person in a vegetative state can experience positive emotions – a breakthrough that could help friends, relatives and doctors ...

Recommended for you

Study uncovers specialized mouse neurons that play a unique role in pain

August 17, 2017
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health have identified a class of sensory neurons (nerve cells that electrically send and receive messages between the body and brain) that can be activated by stimuli as precise ...

Scientists discover powerful potential pain reliever

August 16, 2017
A team of scientists led by chemists Stephen Martin and James Sahn at The University of Texas at Austin have discovered what they say is a powerful pain reliever that acts on a previously unknown pain pathway. The synthetic ...

Scientists use magnetic fields to remotely stimulate brain—and control body movements

August 16, 2017
Scientists have used magnetism to activate tiny groups of cells in the brain, inducing bodily movements that include running, rotating and losing control of the extremities—an achievement that could lead to advances in ...

Scientists give star treatment to lesser-known cells crucial for brain development

August 16, 2017
After decades of relative neglect, star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes are finally getting their due. To gather insight into a critical aspect of brain development, a team of scientists examined the maturation of astrocytes ...

The nerve-guiding 'labels' that may one day help re-establish broken nervous connections

August 16, 2017
Scientists have identified a large group of biological 'labels' that guide nerves to ensure they make the correct connections and control different parts of the body. Although their research was conducted with fruit flies, ...

Navigation and spatial memory—new brain region identified to be involved

August 16, 2017
Navigation in mammals including humans and rodents depends on specialized neural networks that encode the animal's location and trajectory in the environment, serving essentially as a GPS, findings that led to the 2014 Nobel ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.