Scientists at Columbia University have harnessed cutting-edge imaging techniques to unveil the brain activity and regions associated with Cognitive Motor Dissociation (CMD), often referred to as ‘hidden consciousness’. CMD is a state where individuals exhibit comatose and unresponsive outward behaviors while inwardly displaying signs of conscious brain function. The research findings, with potential clinical implications, might facilitate the identification of CMD and lead to tailored treatments for those who can comprehend but cannot respond.

Around 15–25 percent of individuals with brain injuries from causes like head trauma, brain hemorrhage, or cardiac arrest experience CMD. In these cases, there is a disconnection between the brain’s instructions and the execution of those instructions by the muscles.

The team from Columbia University, employing a novel bi-clustering analysis technique, discovered patterns of brain injury shared among CMD patients that differ from those without CMD. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) were employed to observe the brain activity of 107 study participants performing simple movements. Of these participants, 21 were identified as having CMD. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and machine learning methods were subsequently used to identify patterns correlating CMD with specific brain regions and activity.

The research indicated that all CMD patients exhibited intact brain structures linked to arousal and command comprehension, suggesting that verbal instructions could be perceived and understood. Nevertheless, there were structural anomalies in areas related to physical action, elucidating the inability to respond with movement.

Although further research is necessary to refine these techniques for more precise CMD detection through brain scans, the approach could potentially enable healthcare professionals to diagnose CMD more accurately. Furthermore, it might aid in the identification of patients with a higher likelihood of recovery.

The overarching goal is to extend this analysis and detection to all settings where brain injuries are treated, leveraging EEG and MRI scans, along with an enhanced understanding of the brain damage types that genuinely impact consciousness.

Ongoing research is geared towards aiding individuals in coma-like conditions, and one avenue to enhance treatments is to gain a deeper comprehension of the level of consciousness exhibited by patients.

Neurologist Jan Claassen from Columbia University affirms, “Our study shows that it may be possible to screen for hidden consciousness using widely available structural brain imaging, moving the detection of CMD one step closer to general clinical use.” This breakthrough holds the potential to not only advance our understanding of consciousness but also revolutionize the way we approach and treat conditions involving altered states of awareness.

By Impact Lab