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Functional MRI: a powerful tool for assessing states of consciousness

An international collaboration led by a team from the ICM (Brain and Spine Institute) shows that it is possible to assess states of consciousness through an imaging process developed at NeuroSpin (CEA-Joliot). This new tool could help to better diagnose alterations of consciousness. The results have been published in Science Advances.

Published on 19 February 2019

​Abstract of the original paper

Adopting the framework of brain dynamics as a cornerstone of human consciousness, we determined whether dynamic signal coordination provides specific and generalizable patterns pertaining to conscious and unconscious states after brain damage. A dynamic pattern of coordinated and anticoordinated functional magnetic resonance imaging signals characterized healthy individuals and minimally conscious patients. The brains of unresponsive patients showed primarily a pattern of low interareal phase coherence mainly mediated by structural connectivity, and had smaller chances to transition between patterns. The complex pattern was further corroborated in patients with covert cognition, who could perform neuroimaging mental imagery tasks, validating this pattern’s implication in consciousness. Anesthesia increased the probability of the less complex pattern to equal levels, validating its implication in unconsciousness. Our results establish that consciousness rests on the brain’s ability to sustain rich brain dynamics and pave the way for determining specific and generalizable fingerprints of conscious and unconscious states.

Seminal work at NeuroSpin

In 2015, the team led by Stanislas Dehaene (UNICOG) at NeuroSpin published in PNAS the results of a preclinical study conducted with fMRI. This work has shown that it was possible to follow in real time the configuration of functional connectivity and that it varied over time. In particular, researchers have shown that general anesthesia greatly limited the number and complexity of connective configurations compared to a wakefulness state.

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