Functional MRI (fMRI) is a type of neuroimaging that can display brain activity that corresponds to different tasks. One potential use for fMRI is to assess brain functioning in people who are in a minimally conscious state due to severe traumatic brain injury.
In a case study, a severely brain-injured young woman who was in a minimally conscious state was given imagery tasks while being measured by fMRI. One task was to imagine playing tennis, and the other was to imagine walking through her house. The fMRI results of the injured patient were compared to 8 healthy controls.
The results were that the tennis task produced the same fMRI response in the patient as the healthy controls. The walking through the house task did not produce the same result, but the patient had sustained an injury to the part of the brain specific to the spatial imagery needed to perform the task.
Using fMRI can therefore be effective for assessing brain functioning-not only to determine consciousness, but also to help determine the location and extent of lesions.
Aslaksen M & Vangberg TR. Probing for consciousness after severe brain injury by functional magnetic resolution (fMRI). Journal of Neurology. (September 2011).