Awake but not aware: This puzzling dissociation of the two central elements of consciousness defines the vegetative state. Traditionally, this condition has been believed to imply a brain with preserved hypothalamic and brainstem autonomic functions but with no capacity for cortical cognitive processes. As is discussed in this review, over a 20-year span neuroimaging techniques have clearly demonstrated that this characterization of patients in a vegetative state is incorrect. Contrary to the initial belief, the “vegetative” brain can retain several high-level aspects of cognitive functions, across sensory modalities, including language processing and learning dynamics. Nonetheless, the residual cognitive functions observed in vegetative patients might reflect intact but functionally disconnected cortical modules that do not give rise to the subjective feeling of phenomenological awareness.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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