OBJECTIVE: To propose a new methodology based on single-trial analysis for detecting residual response to command with EMG in patients with disorders of consciousness (DOC), overcoming the issue of trial dependency and decreasing the influence of a patient's fluctuation of vigilance or arousal over time on diagnostic accuracy.
METHODS: Forty-five patients with DOC (18 with vegetative/unresponsive wakefulness syndrome [VS/UWS], 22 in a minimally conscious state [MCS], 3 who emerged from MCS [EMCS], and 2 with locked-in syndrome [LIS]) and 20 healthy controls were included in the study. Patients were randomly instructed to either move their left or right hand or listen to a control command ("It is a sunny day") while EMG activity was recorded on both arms.
RESULTS: Differential EMG activity was detected in all MCS cases displaying reproducible response to command at bedside on multiple assessments, even though only 6 of the 14 individuals presented a behavioral response to command on the day of the EMG assessment. An EMG response was also detected in all EMCS and LIS patients, and 2 MCS patients showing nonreflexive movements without command following at the bedside. None of the VS/UWS presented a response to command with this method.
CONCLUSIONS: This method allowed us to reliably distinguish between different levels of consciousness and could potentially help decrease diagnostic errors in patients with motor impairment but presenting residual motor activity.