Non-communicative brain damaged patients raise important clinical and scientific issues. Here, we review three major pathological disorders of consciousness: coma, the unresponsive wakefulness syndrome and the minimally conscious state. A number of clinical studies highlight the difficulty in making a correct diagnosis in patients with disorders of consciousness based only on behavioral examinations. The increasing use of neuroimaging techniques allows improving clinical characterization of these patients. Recent neuroimaging studies using positron emission tomography, functional magnetic resonance imaging, electroencephalography and transcranial magnetic stimulation can help assess diagnosis, prognosis, and therapeutic treatment. These techniques, using resting state, passive and active paradigms, also highlight possible dissociations between consciousness and responsiveness, and are facilitating a more accurate understanding of brain function in this challenging population.

Keywords: Coma, EEG, fMRI, minimally conscious state, neuroimaging, PET scan, unresponsive wakefulness syndrome.
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