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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Feb 3;106(5):1672-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809667106. Epub 2009 Jan 21.

Neural signature of the conscious processing of auditory regularities.

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  • 1Cognitive Neuro-Imaging Unit, Institut Fédératif de Recherche 49, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale, 91191 Gif sur Yvette, France.


Can conscious processing be inferred from neurophysiological measurements? Some models stipulate that the active maintenance of perceptual representations across time requires consciousness. Capitalizing on this assumption, we designed an auditory paradigm that evaluates cerebral responses to violations of temporal regularities that are either local in time or global across several seconds. Local violations led to an early response in auditory cortex, independent of attention or the presence of a concurrent visual task, whereas global violations led to a late and spatially distributed response that was only present when subjects were attentive and aware of the violations. We could detect the global effect in individual subjects using functional MRI and both scalp and intracerebral event-related potentials. Recordings from 8 noncommunicating patients with disorders of consciousness confirmed that only conscious individuals presented a global effect. Taken together these observations suggest that the presence of the global effect is a signature of conscious processing, although it can be absent in conscious subjects who are not aware of the global auditory regularities. This simple electrophysiological marker could thus serve as a useful clinical tool.

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