A hierarchy of event-related potential markers of auditory processing in disorders of consciousness

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Steve Beukema
  • Laura E. Gonzalez-lara
  • Paola Finoia
  • Evelyn Kamau
  • Judith Allanson
  • Srivas Chennu
  • Raechelle M. Gibson
  • John D. Pickard
  • Adrian M. Owen


Functional neuroimaging of covert perceptual and cognitive processes can inform the diagnoses and prognoses of patients with disorders of consciousness, such as the vegetative and minimally conscious states (VS;MCS). Here we report an event-related potential (ERP) paradigm for detecting a hierarchy of auditory processes in a group of healthy individuals and patients with disorders of consciousness. Simple cortical responses to sounds were observed in all 16 patients; 7/16 (44%) patients exhibited markers of the differential processing of speech and noise; and 1 patient produced evidence of the semantic processing of speech (i.e. the N400 effect). In several patients, the level of auditory processing that was evident from ERPs was higher than the abilities that were evident from behavioural assessment, indicating a greater sensitivity of ERPs in some cases. However, there were no differences in auditory processing between VS and MCS patient groups, indicating a lack of diagnostic specificity for this paradigm. Reliably detecting semantic processing by means of the N400 effect in passively listening single-subjects is a challenge. Multiple assessment methods are needed in order to fully characterise the abilities of patients with disorders of consciousness.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-371
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Early online date4 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Disorders of consciousness, N400, Auditory processing, Vegetative state, Minimally conscious state