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1.  Consciousness and cortical responsiveness: a within-state study during non-rapid eye movement sleep 
Scientific Reports  2016;6:30932.
When subjects become unconscious, there is a characteristic change in the way the cerebral cortex responds to perturbations, as can be assessed using transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroencephalography (TMS–EEG). For instance, compared to wakefulness, during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep TMS elicits a larger positive–negative wave, fewer phase-locked oscillations, and an overall simpler response. However, many physiological variables also change when subjects go from wake to sleep, anesthesia, or coma. To avoid these confounding factors, we focused on NREM sleep only and measured TMS-evoked EEG responses before awakening the subjects and asking them if they had been conscious (dreaming) or not. As shown here, when subjects reported no conscious experience upon awakening, TMS evoked a larger negative deflection and a shorter phase-locked response compared to when they reported a dream. Moreover, the amplitude of the negative deflection—a hallmark of neuronal bistability according to intracranial studies—was inversely correlated with the length of the dream report (i.e., total word count). These findings suggest that variations in the level of consciousness within the same physiological state are associated with changes in the underlying bistability in cortical circuits.
PMCID: PMC4974655  PMID: 27491799
2.  Reversal of cortical information flow during visual imagery as compared to visual perception 
NeuroImage  2014;100:237-243.
The role of bottom-up and top-down connections during visual perception and the forming of mental images was examined by analyzing high-density EEG recordings of brain activity using two state-of-the-art methods for assessing the directionality of cortical signal flow: state-space Granger causality and dynamic causal modeling. We quantified the directionality of signal flow in an occipito-parieto-frontal cortical network during perception of movie clips versus mental replay of the movies and free visual imagery. Both Granger causality and dynamic causal modeling analyses revealed increased top-down signal flow in parieto-occipital cortices during mental imagery as compared to visual perception. These results are the first direct demonstration of a reversal of the predominant direction of cortical signal flow during mental imagery as compared to perception.
PMCID: PMC4310722  PMID: 24910071
Imagery; Perception; Top-down; Bottom-up; Granger causality; Dynamic causal modeling
3.  Complexity of Multi-Dimensional Spontaneous EEG Decreases during Propofol Induced General Anaesthesia 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(8):e0133532.
Emerging neural theories of consciousness suggest a correlation between a specific type of neural dynamical complexity and the level of consciousness: When awake and aware, causal interactions between brain regions are both integrated (all regions are to a certain extent connected) and differentiated (there is inhomogeneity and variety in the interactions). In support of this, recent work by Casali et al (2013) has shown that Lempel-Ziv complexity correlates strongly with conscious level, when computed on the EEG response to transcranial magnetic stimulation. Here we investigated complexity of spontaneous high-density EEG data during propofol-induced general anaesthesia. We consider three distinct measures: (i) Lempel-Ziv complexity, which is derived from how compressible the data are; (ii) amplitude coalition entropy, which measures the variability in the constitution of the set of active channels; and (iii) the novel synchrony coalition entropy (SCE), which measures the variability in the constitution of the set of synchronous channels. After some simulations on Kuramoto oscillator models which demonstrate that these measures capture distinct ‘flavours’ of complexity, we show that there is a robustly measurable decrease in the complexity of spontaneous EEG during general anaesthesia.
PMCID: PMC4529106  PMID: 26252378
4.  Stimulus Set Meaningfulness and Neurophysiological Differentiation: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(5):e0125337.
A meaningful set of stimuli, such as a sequence of frames from a movie, triggers a set of different experiences. By contrast, a meaningless set of stimuli, such as a sequence of ‘TV noise’ frames, triggers always the same experience—of seeing ‘TV noise’—even though the stimuli themselves are as different from each other as the movie frames. We reasoned that the differentiation of cortical responses underlying the subject’s experiences, as measured by Lempel-Ziv complexity (incompressibility) of functional MRI images, should reflect the overall meaningfulness of a set of stimuli for the subject, rather than differences among the stimuli. We tested this hypothesis by quantifying the differentiation of brain activity patterns in response to a movie sequence, to the same movie scrambled in time, and to ‘TV noise’, where the pixels from each movie frame were scrambled in space. While overall cortical activation was strong and widespread in all conditions, the differentiation (Lempel-Ziv complexity) of brain activation patterns was correlated with the meaningfulness of the stimulus set, being highest in the movie condition, intermediate in the scrambled movie condition, and minimal for ‘TV noise’. Stimulus set meaningfulness was also associated with higher information integration among cortical regions. These results suggest that the differentiation of neural responses can be used to assess the meaningfulness of a given set of stimuli for a given subject, without the need to identify the features and categories that are relevant to the subject, nor the precise location of selective neural responses.
PMCID: PMC4430458  PMID: 25970444
5.  Consciousness in humans and non-human animals: recent advances and future directions 
This joint article reflects the authors' personal views regarding noteworthy advances in the neuroscience of consciousness in the last 10 years, and suggests what we feel may be promising future directions. It is based on a small conference at the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine, USA, in July of 2012, organized by the Mind Science Foundation of San Antonio, Texas. Here, we summarize recent advances in our understanding of subjectivity in humans and other animals, including empirical, applied, technical, and conceptual insights. These include the evidence for the importance of fronto-parietal connectivity and of “top-down” processes, both of which enable information to travel across distant cortical areas effectively, as well as numerous dissociations between consciousness and cognitive functions, such as attention, in humans. In addition, we describe the development of mental imagery paradigms, which made it possible to identify covert awareness in non-responsive subjects. Non-human animal consciousness research has also witnessed substantial advances on the specific role of cortical areas and higher order thalamus for consciousness, thanks to important technological enhancements. In addition, much progress has been made in the understanding of non-vertebrate cognition relevant to possible conscious states. Finally, major advances have been made in theories of consciousness, and also in their comparison with the available evidence. Along with reviewing these findings, each author suggests future avenues for research in their field of investigation.
PMCID: PMC3814086  PMID: 24198791
consciousness; animals; human cognition; theoretical neuroscience; biotechnology; neuroimaging
6.  Changes in Effective Connectivity by Propofol Sedation 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e71370.
Mechanisms of propofol-induced loss of consciousness remain poorly understood. Recent fMRI studies have shown decreases in functional connectivity during unconsciousness induced by this anesthetic agent. Functional connectivity does not provide information of directional changes in the dynamics observed during unconsciousness. The aim of the present study was to investigate, in healthy humans during an auditory task, the changes in effective connectivity resulting from propofol induced loss of consciousness. We used Dynamic Causal Modeling for fMRI (fMRI-DCM) to assess how causal connectivity is influenced by the anesthetic agent in the auditory system. Our results suggest that the dynamic observed in the auditory system during unconsciousness induced by propofol, can result in a mixture of two effects: a local inhibitory connectivity increase and a decrease in the effective connectivity in sensory cortices.
PMCID: PMC3747149  PMID: 23977030
8.  Reduction in Inter-Hemispheric Connectivity in Disorders of Consciousness 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(5):e37238.
Clinical diagnosis of disorders of consciousness (DOC) caused by brain injury poses great challenges since patients are often behaviorally unresponsive. A promising new approach towards objective DOC diagnosis may be offered by the analysis of ultra-slow (<0.1 Hz) spontaneous brain activity fluctuations measured with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during the resting-state. Previous work has shown reduced functional connectivity within the “default network”, a subset of regions known to be deactivated during engaging tasks, which correlated with the degree of consciousness impairment. However, it remains unclear whether the breakdown of connectivity is restricted to the “default network”, and to what degree changes in functional connectivity can be observed at the single subject level. Here, we analyzed resting-state inter-hemispheric connectivity in three homotopic regions of interest, which could reliably be identified based on distinct anatomical landmarks, and were part of the “Extrinsic” (externally oriented, task positive) network (pre- and postcentral gyrus, and intraparietal sulcus). Resting-state fMRI data were acquired for a group of 11 healthy subjects and 8 DOC patients. At the group level, our results indicate decreased inter-hemispheric functional connectivity in subjects with impaired awareness as compared to subjects with intact awareness. Individual connectivity scores significantly correlated with the degree of consciousness. Furthermore, a single-case statistic indicated a significant deviation from the healthy sample in 5/8 patients. Importantly, of the three patients whose connectivity indices were comparable to the healthy sample, one was diagnosed as locked-in. Taken together, our results further highlight the clinical potential of resting-state connectivity analysis and might guide the way towards a connectivity measure complementing existing DOC diagnosis.
PMCID: PMC3358327  PMID: 22629375
9.  Default network connectivity reflects the level of consciousness in non-communicative brain-damaged patients 
Brain  2009;133(1):161-171.
The ‘default network’ is defined as a set of areas, encompassing posterior-cingulate/precuneus, anterior cingulate/mesiofrontal cortex and temporo-parietal junctions, that show more activity at rest than during attention-demanding tasks. Recent studies have shown that it is possible to reliably identify this network in the absence of any task, by resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging connectivity analyses in healthy volunteers. However, the functional significance of these spontaneous brain activity fluctuations remains unclear. The aim of this study was to test if the integrity of this resting-state connectivity pattern in the default network would differ in different pathological alterations of consciousness. Fourteen non-communicative brain-damaged patients and 14 healthy controls participated in the study. Connectivity was investigated using probabilistic independent component analysis, and an automated template-matching component selection approach. Connectivity in all default network areas was found to be negatively correlated with the degree of clinical consciousness impairment, ranging from healthy controls and locked-in syndrome to minimally conscious, vegetative then coma patients. Furthermore, precuneus connectivity was found to be significantly stronger in minimally conscious patients as compared with unconscious patients. Locked-in syndrome patient’s default network connectivity was not significantly different from controls. Our results show that default network connectivity is decreased in severely brain-damaged patients, in proportion to their degree of consciousness impairment. Future prospective studies in a larger patient population are needed in order to evaluate the prognostic value of the presented methodology.
PMCID: PMC2801329  PMID: 20034928
Default mode; fMRI; coma; vegetative state; minimally conscious state
10.  Diagnostic accuracy of the vegetative and minimally conscious state: Clinical consensus versus standardized neurobehavioral assessment 
BMC Neurology  2009;9:35.
Previously published studies have reported that up to 43% of patients with disorders of consciousness are erroneously assigned a diagnosis of vegetative state (VS). However, no recent studies have investigated the accuracy of this grave clinical diagnosis. In this study, we compared consensus-based diagnoses of VS and MCS to those based on a well-established standardized neurobehavioral rating scale, the JFK Coma Recovery Scale-Revised (CRS-R).
We prospectively followed 103 patients (55 ± 19 years) with mixed etiologies and compared the clinical consensus diagnosis provided by the physician on the basis of the medical staff's daily observations to diagnoses derived from CRS-R assessments performed by research staff. All patients were assigned a diagnosis of 'VS', 'MCS' or 'uncertain diagnosis.'
Of the 44 patients diagnosed with VS based on the clinical consensus of the medical team, 18 (41%) were found to be in MCS following standardized assessment with the CRS-R. In the 41 patients with a consensus diagnosis of MCS, 4 (10%) had emerged from MCS, according to the CRS-R. We also found that the majority of patients assigned an uncertain diagnosis by clinical consensus (89%) were in MCS based on CRS-R findings.
Despite the importance of diagnostic accuracy, the rate of misdiagnosis of VS has not substantially changed in the past 15 years. Standardized neurobehavioral assessment is a more sensitive means of establishing differential diagnosis in patients with disorders of consciousness when compared to diagnoses determined by clinical consensus.
PMCID: PMC2718857  PMID: 19622138

Results 1-10 (10)