Reappearance of Command-Following Is Associated With the Recovery of Language and Internal-Awareness Networks: A Longitudinal Multiple-Case Report

Authors: Charlène Aubinet, Rajanikant Panda, Stephen Karl Larroque, Helena Cassol, Mohamed Ali Bahri, Manon Carrière, Sarah Wannez, Steve Majerus, Steven Laureys and Aurore Thibaut – The recovery of patients with disorders of consciousness is a real challenge, especially at the chronic stage. After a severe brain injury, patients can regain some slight signs of consciousness, while not being able to functionally communicate. This entity is called the minimally conscious state (MCS), which has been divided into MCS- and MCS+, respectively based on the absence or presence of language-related signs of consciousness. In this series of cases we aimed to describe retrospectively the longitudinal recovery of specific language-related behaviors using neuroimaging measurement in severely brain-injured patients. Among 209 chronic MCS patients admitted to our center from 2008 to 2018, 19 were assessed at two time points by means of behavioral and neuroimaging assessments. Three of them met our inclusion criteria and were diagnosed as MCS- during their first stay and had recovered command-following when they were reassessed (i.e., MCS+). As compared to their first assessments, when the three patients were in a MCS+, they showed less hypometabolism and/or higher gray matter volume in brain regions such as the precuneus and thalamus, as well as the left caudate and temporal/angular cortices known to be involved in various aspects of semantics. According to these preliminary results, the reappearance of language-related behaviors was concomitant with the recovery of metabolism and gray matter in neural regions that have been associated with self-consciousness and language processing. Prospective studies should be conducted to deepen our understanding of the neural correlates of the recovery of language-related behaviors in chronic MCS.

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