A study published at the Journal of the American Academy of Neurology suggests that brain scans of comatose patients may help predict who will regain consciousness and who will not.
For the study, the researchers specifically looked at connections between areas of the brain that play a role in regulating consciousness. They recruited 27 comatose patients who had severe brain injury and compared them to 14 healthy participants of the same ages. All the participants in the study had functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans taken of their brains.
Only four of the participants with coma had recovered consciousness from the injuries they had three months earlier while rest of the participants remained in a minimally conscious state or a vegetative state at three months. As researchers found, all the comatose patients had significant disruption in the connections between brain areas and the posterior cingulate cortex. These changes are observed similarly in the case of the brain injury resulting from trauma or lack of oxygen, such as from cardiac arrest.
Although all the patients had disruption in coordination of activity between the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex, the researchers found that it was significantly different between the patients who regained consciousness following their injuries and those who did not, but remained the same as in the healthy participants.
“We need to do more studies with larger numbers of patients to substantiate these results, but the findings are promising,” said Stein Silva, lead author of the study in a news release. “We could be able to predict better who is more likely to recover from a coma and eventually develop innovative networks-based personalized treatments for people with brain injuries.”
While the study suggests recovery from coma predictable through brain scans, the lead of author of the study said more research is needed to be done on this regard, so that the results can be used to guide decisions about people in comas.
[Hat Tip: AAN, Neurology – Disruption of posteromedial large-scale neural communication predicts recovery from coma; Image: Science Photo Library/Getty Images]