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NeuroImage: Clinical



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Patients diagnosed with disorders of consciousness show minimal or inconsistent behavioural evidence of conscious awareness. However, using functional neuroimaging, recent research in clinical neuroscience has identified a subpopulation of these patients who reliably produce neural markers indicative of awareness. In this study, we recorded electroencephalograms during a response-free movie task to assess narrative processing in patients with disorders of consciousness. Thirteen patients diagnosed with a disorder of consciousness and 28 healthy controls participated in this study. We designed a movie-watching/listening paradigm involving two suspenseful movie clips, one audiovisual and one audio-only, and used electroencephalography to extract patterns of brain activity that were maximally correlated between subjects. These activity patterns served as electrophysiological indices of narrative processing, which were compared to the neural responses of patients during the same movies. Our analysis revealed two patterns of neural activity, one for each movie condition, that were significantly and reliably correlated between healthy participants. Of the twelve patients who watched the audiovisual movie, 25% produced a pattern of activity that was significantly correlated with the healthy group, while of the ten who listened to the audio narrative, 30% produced electrophysiological patterns similar to controls (one patient responded appropriately to both). The method presented here allows for rapid bedside assessment of higher-order cognitive processing in patients with disorders of consciousness. By leveraging the common neural response to movie stimuli, we were able to identify comparable patterns of brain activity in individual, behaviourally non-responsive patients, reflecting a capacity for narrative processing.