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1.  Dynamic Change of Global and Local Information Processing in Propofol-Induced Loss and Recovery of Consciousness 
PLoS Computational Biology  2013;9(10):e1003271.
Whether unique to humans or not, consciousness is a central aspect of our experience of the world. The neural fingerprint of this experience, however, remains one of the least understood aspects of the human brain. In this paper we employ graph-theoretic measures and support vector machine classification to assess, in 12 healthy volunteers, the dynamic reconfiguration of functional connectivity during wakefulness, propofol-induced sedation and loss of consciousness, and the recovery of wakefulness. Our main findings, based on resting-state fMRI, are three-fold. First, we find that propofol-induced anesthesia does not bear differently on long-range versus short-range connections. Second, our multi-stage design dissociated an initial phase of thalamo-cortical and cortico-cortical hyperconnectivity, present during sedation, from a phase of cortico-cortical hypoconnectivity, apparent during loss of consciousness. Finally, we show that while clustering is increased during loss of consciousness, as recently suggested, it also remains significantly elevated during wakefulness recovery. Conversely, the characteristic path length of brain networks (i.e., the average functional distance between any two regions of the brain) appears significantly increased only during loss of consciousness, marking a decrease of global information-processing efficiency uniquely associated with unconsciousness. These findings suggest that propofol-induced loss of consciousness is mainly tied to cortico-cortical and not thalamo-cortical mechanisms, and that decreased efficiency of information flow is the main feature differentiating the conscious from the unconscious brain.
Author Summary
One of the most elusive aspects of the human brain is the neural fingerprint of the subjective feeling of consciousness. While a growing body of experimental evidence is starting to address this issue, to date we are still hard pressed to answer even basic questions concerning the nature of consciousness in humans as well as other species. In the present study we follow a recent theoretical construct according to which the crucial factor underlying consciousness is the modality with which information is exchanged across different parts of the brain. In particular, we represent the brain as a network of regions exchanging information (as is typically done in a comparatively young branch of mathematics referred to as graph theory), and assess how different levels of consciousness induced by anesthetic agent affect the quality of information exchange across regions of the network. Overall, our findings show that what makes the state of propofol-induced loss of consciousness different from all other conditions (namely, wakefulness, light sedation, and consciousness recovery) is the fact that all regions of the brain appear to be functionally further apart, reducing the efficiency with which information can be exchanged across different parts of the network.
doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003271
PMCID: PMC3798283  PMID: 24146606
2.  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.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071370
PMCID: PMC3747149  PMID: 23977030
3.  Connectivity changes underlying spectral EEG changes during propofol-induced loss of consciousness 
The mechanisms underlying anesthesia-induced loss of consciousness remain a matter of debate. Recent electrophysiological reports suggest that while initial propofol infusion provokes an increase in fast rhythms (from beta to gamma range), slow activity (delta to alpha) rises selectively during loss of consciousness. Dynamic causal modeling was used to investigate the neural mechanisms mediating these changes in spectral power in humans. We analyzed source-reconstructed data from frontal and parietal cortices during normal wakefulness, propofol-induced mild sedation and loss of consciousness. Bayesian model selection revealed that the best model for explaining spectral changes across the three states involved changes in cortico-thalamic interactions. Compared to wakefulness, mild sedation was accounted for by an increase in thalamic excitability, which did not further increase during loss of consciousness. In contrast, loss of consciousness per se was accompanied by a decrease in backward cortico-cortical connectivity from frontal to parietal cortices, while thalamo-cortical connectivity remained unchanged. These results emphasize the importance of recurrent cortico-cortical communication in the maintenance of consciousness and suggest a direct effect of propofol on cortical dynamics.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3769-11.2012
PMCID: PMC3366913  PMID: 22593076
4.  Connectivity changes underlying spectral EEG changes during propofol-induced loss of consciousness 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2012;32(20):7082-7090.
The mechanisms underlying anesthesia-induced loss of consciousness remain a matter of debate. Recent electrophysiological reports suggest that while initial propofol infusion provokes an increase in fast rhythms (from beta to gamma range), slow activity (delta to alpha) rises selectively during loss of consciousness. Dynamic causal modeling was used to investigate the neural mechanisms mediating these changes in spectral power in humans. We analyzed source-reconstructed data from frontal and parietal cortices during normal wakefulness, propofol-induced mild sedation and loss of consciousness. Bayesian model selection revealed that the best model for explaining spectral changes across the three states involved changes in cortico-thalamic interactions. Compared to wakefulness, mild sedation was accounted for by an increase in thalamic excitability, which did not further increase during loss of consciousness. In contrast, loss of consciousness per se was accompanied by a decrease in backward cortico-cortical connectivity from frontal to parietal cortices, while thalamo-cortical connectivity remained unchanged. These results emphasize the importance of recurrent cortico-cortical communication in the maintenance of consciousness and suggest a direct effect of propofol on cortical dynamics.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3769-11.2012
PMCID: PMC3366913  PMID: 22593076
5.  Recovery of cortical effective connectivity and recovery of consciousness in vegetative patients 
Brain  2012;135(4):1308-1320.
Patients surviving severe brain injury may regain consciousness without recovering their ability to understand, move and communicate. Recently, electrophysiological and neuroimaging approaches, employing simple sensory stimulations or verbal commands, have proven useful in detecting higher order processing and, in some cases, in establishing some degree of communication in brain-injured subjects with severe impairment of motor function. To complement these approaches, it would be useful to develop methods to detect recovery of consciousness in ways that do not depend on the integrity of sensory pathways or on the subject's ability to comprehend or carry out instructions. As suggested by theoretical and experimental work, a key requirement for consciousness is that multiple, specialized cortical areas can engage in rapid causal interactions (effective connectivity). Here, we employ transcranial magnetic stimulation together with high-density electroencephalography to evaluate effective connectivity at the bedside of severely brain injured, non-communicating subjects. In patients in a vegetative state, who were open-eyed, behaviourally awake but unresponsive, transcranial magnetic stimulation triggered a simple, local response indicating a breakdown of effective connectivity, similar to the one previously observed in unconscious sleeping or anaesthetized subjects. In contrast, in minimally conscious patients, who showed fluctuating signs of non-reflexive behaviour, transcranial magnetic stimulation invariably triggered complex activations that sequentially involved distant cortical areas ipsi- and contralateral to the site of stimulation, similar to activations we recorded in locked-in, conscious patients. Longitudinal measurements performed in patients who gradually recovered consciousness revealed that this clear-cut change in effective connectivity could occur at an early stage, before reliable communication was established with the subject and before the spontaneous electroencephalogram showed significant modifications. Measurements of effective connectivity by means of transcranial magnetic stimulation combined with electroencephalography can be performed at the bedside while by-passing subcortical afferent and efferent pathways, and without requiring active participation of subjects or language comprehension; hence, they offer an effective way to detect and track recovery of consciousness in brain-injured patients who are unable to exchange information with the external environment.
doi:10.1093/brain/awr340
PMCID: PMC3326248  PMID: 22226806
coma; TMS; EEG; minimally conscious state; cerebral cortex
6.  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.
doi:10.1093/brain/awp313
PMCID: PMC2801329  PMID: 20034928
Default mode; fMRI; coma; vegetative state; minimally conscious state
7.  Brain Connectivity in Pathological and Pharmacological Coma 
Recent studies in patients with disorders of consciousness (DOC) tend to support the view that awareness is not related to activity in a single brain region but to thalamo-cortical connectivity in the frontoparietal network. Functional neuroimaging studies have shown preserved albeit disconnected low-level cortical activation in response to external stimulation in patients in a “vegetative state” or unresponsive wakefulness syndrome. While activation of these “primary” sensory cortices does not necessarily reflect conscious awareness, activation in higher-order associative cortices in minimally conscious state patients seems to herald some residual perceptual awareness. PET studies have identified a metabolic dysfunction in a widespread frontoparietal “global neuronal workspace” in DOC patients including the midline default mode network (“intrinsic” system) and the lateral frontoparietal cortices or “extrinsic system.” Recent studies have investigated the relation of awareness to the functional connectivity within intrinsic and extrinsic networks, and with the thalami in both pathological and pharmacological coma. In brain damaged patients, connectivity in all default network areas was found to be non-linearly correlated with the degree of clinical consciousness impairment, ranging from healthy controls and locked-in syndrome to minimally conscious, vegetative, coma, and brain dead patients. Anesthesia-induced loss of consciousness was also shown to correlate with a global decrease in cortico-cortical and thalamo-cortical connectivity in both intrinsic and extrinsic networks, but not in auditory, or visual networks. In anesthesia, unconsciousness was also associated with a loss of cross-modal interactions between networks. These results suggest that conscious awareness critically depends on the functional integrity of thalamo-cortical and cortico-cortical frontoparietal connectivity within and between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” brain networks.
doi:10.3389/fnsys.2010.00160
PMCID: PMC3010745  PMID: 21191476
disorders of consciousness; connectivity; anesthesia; fMRI; PET; coma; default mode network; consciousness

Results 1-7 (7)