The P300 component of a sensory event-related potential is one of the major electrophysiological markers used to explore remnants of cognitive function in patients with disorders of consciousness (DoC). However, measuring the P300 in patients is complicated by significant inter-trial variability commonly observed in levels of arousal and awareness. To overcome this limitation, we analyzed single-trial modulation of power in the delta and theta frequency bands, which underlie the P300.
In a preliminary cross-sectional study using a 24-channel EEG and a passive own-name oddball paradigm, we analyzed event-related synchronization (ERS) across trials in the delta and theta bands in a sample of 10 control and 12 DoC subjects.
In comparison to controls, DoC subjects presented a low percentage of trials where delta ERS was observed. In particular, coordinated modulation between delta and theta in response to the stimulus was absent, with a high percentage of trials where only theta ERS was observed. Further, we found a positive correlation between the percentage of epochs with delta ERS and the strength of the P300.
Reduced modulation of spectral activity in the delta band in response to stimuli indicates a dissociation in the activity of the neural networks that oscillate in delta and theta ranges and contribute to the generation of the P300.
The reduction in spectral modulation observed in DoC provides a deeper understanding of neurophysiological dysfunction and the means to develop a more fine-grained marker of residual cognitive function in individual patients.