Western neuroscientists breakthrough on physical cause of vegetative state
In support of the study titled, “A role for the default mode network in the bases of disorders of consciousness,” Davinia Fernandez-Espejo, a post doctoral fellow at Western’s Brain and Mind Institute, utilized a technique called diffusion tensor imaging tractography to investigate more than 50 patients suffering from varying degrees of brain injury.
This state-of-the-art magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique allows researchers to virtually reconstruct the pathways that connect different parts of the brain in the patients while detecting subtle differences in their brain damage.
Specifically, Fernandez-Espejo was able to show that in vegetative state patients, a group of brain regions known as the default mode network that are known to activate during periods of daydreaming and mind-wandering were significantly disconnected, relative to healthy individuals.
“These findings are a first step towards identifying biomarkers that will help us to improve diagnosis and to find possible therapies for these patients” says Fernandez-Espejo. “But they also give us new information about how the healthy brain generates consciousness.”
Fernandez-Espejo collaborated with Adrian Owen, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging, and colleagues from the University of Barcelona, the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, U.K. the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge, and the Coma Science Group, University Hospital of Liège on this study.
The findings were released today in Annals of Neurology, the official journal of the American Neurological Association and the Child Neurology Society.
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