The Clinical Diagnostic Utility of Electrophysiological Techniques in Assessment of Patients With Disorders of Consciousness Following Acquired Brain Injury: A Systematic Review

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To investigate the diagnostic utility of electrophysiological recordings during active cognitive tasks in detecting residual cognitive capacities in patients with disorders of consciousness (DoC) after severe acquired brain injury.


Systematic review of empirical research in MEDLINE, Embase, PsycINFO, and Cochrane from January 2002 to March 2016.

Main Measures:

Data extracted included sample size, type of electrophysiological technique and task design, rate of cognitive responders, false negatives and positives, and excluded subjects from the study analysis. The Quality Assessment of Diagnostic Accuracy Studies–2 (QUADAS-2) was used for quality appraisal of the retrieved literature.


Twenty-four studies examining electrophysiological signs of command-following in patients with DoC were identified. Sensitivity rates in healthy controls demonstrated variable accuracy across the studies, ranging from 71% to 100%. In patients with DoC, specificity and sensitivity rates varied in the included studies, ranging from 0% to 100%. Pronounced heterogeneity was found between studies regarding methodological approaches, task design, and procedures of analysis, rendering comparison between studies challenging.


We are still far from establishing precise recommendations for standardized electrophysiological diagnostic procedures in DoC, but electrophysiological methods may add supplemental diagnostic information of covert cognition in some patients with DoC.

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