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Nat Rev Neurosci. 2008 Mar;9(3):235-43. doi: 10.1038/nrn2330.

Functional neuroimaging of the vegetative state.

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Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge, CB2 7EF, UK.


A number of recent studies have demonstrated a role for state-of-the-art neuroimaging methods in the assessment of patients in the vegetative state and other so-called 'disorders of consciousness'. In several cases, functional MRI has been used to show that aspects of speech perception, emotional processing, language comprehension and even conscious awareness might be retained in some patients who behaviourally meet all of the criteria that define the vegetative state. This work has profound implications for clinical care, diagnosis, prognosis and medical-legal decision making (relating to the prolongation, or otherwise, of life after severe brain injury), as well as for more basic scientific questions about the nature of consciousness and the neural representation of our own thoughts and intentions.

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