How should functional imaging of patients with disorders of consciousness contribute to their clinical rehabilitation needs?

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Purpose of reviewWe discuss the problems of evidence-based neurorehabilitation in disorders of consciousness, and recent functional neuroimaging data obtained in the vegetative state and minimally conscious state.Recent findingsPublished data are insufficient to make recommendations for or against any of the neurorehabilitative treatments in vegetative state and minimally conscious state patients. Electrophysiological and functional imaging studies have been shown to be useful in measuring residual brain function in noncommunicative brain-damaged patients. Despite the fact that such studies could in principle allow an objective quantification of the putative cerebral effect of rehabilitative treatment in the vegetative state and minimally conscious state, they have so far not been used in this context.SummaryWithout controlled studies and careful patient selection criteria it will not be possible to evaluate the potential of therapeutic interventions in disorders of consciousness. There also is a need to elucidate the neurophysiological effects of such treatments. Integration of multimodal neuroimaging techniques should eventually improve our ability to disentangle differences in outcome on the basis of underlying mechanisms and better guide our therapeutic options in the challenging patient populations encountered following severe acute brain damage.

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