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J Neurol Sci. 2003 Aug 15;212(1-2):85-91.

Activation of a residual cortical network during painful stimulation in long-term postanoxic vegetative state: a 15O-H2O PET study.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Freiburg, Breisacher Str. 64, Freiburg, 79106 Germany.


Survivors of prolonged cerebral anoxia often remain in the persistent vegetative state (PVS). In this study, long-term PVS patients were investigated by 15O-H(2)O PET to analyze their central processing of pain. The study was approved by the local Ethics Committee, the experiments were performed in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration of 2000. Seven patients remaining in PVS of anoxic origin for a mean of 1.6 years (range 0.25-4 years) were investigated. We performed functional PET of the brain using 15O-labelled water during electrical nociceptive stimulation. Additionally, a brain metabolism study using 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) PET and multi-sequence MRI (including a 3-D data set) were acquired in all patients. PET data were analyzed by means of Statistical Parametric Mapping (SPM99) and coregistered to a study-specific brain template. MRI and FDG PET showed severe cortical impairment at the structural and the functional level, that is, general atrophy of various degrees and a widespread significant hypometabolism, respectively. Pain-induced activation (hyperperfusion) was found in the posterior insula/secondary somatosensory cortex (SII), postcentral gyrus/primary somatosensory cortex (SI), and the cingulate cortex contralateral to the stimulus and in the posterior insula ipsilateral to the stimulus (P<0.05, small-volume-corrected). No additional areas of the complex pain-processing matrix were significantly activated. In conclusion, the regional activity found at the cortical level indicates that a residual pain-related cerebral network remains active in long-term PVS patients.

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