A new era of coma and consciousness science
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Persistent Vegetative State
In the past ten years, rapid technological developments in the field of neuroimaging have produced a cornucopia of new techniques for examining both the structure and function of the human brain in vivo. In specialized centers, many of these methods are now being employed routinely in the assessment of patients diagnosed with disorders of consciousness, mapping patterns of residual function and dysfunction and helping to reduce diagnostic errors between related conditions such as the vegetative and minimally conscious states. Moreover, such efforts are beginning to provide important new prognostic indicators, helping to disentangle differences in outcome on the basis of a greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms responsible and providing information that will undoubtedly contribute to improved therapeutic choices in these challenging populations. Of course, these emerging technologies and the new information that they provide will bring new ethical challenges to this area and will have profound implications for clinical care and medical-legal decision-making in this population of patients. We review the most recent work in this area and suggest that the future integration of emerging neuroimaging techniques with existing clinical and behavioral methods of assessment will pave the way for new and innovative applications, both in basic neuroscience and in clinical practice.