Deep brain stimulation of the thalamus was introduced more than 40 years ago with the objective of improving the performance and attention of patients in a vegetative or minimally conscious state. Here, the authors report the results of the Cortical Activation by Thalamic Stimulation (CATS) study, a prospective multiinstitutional study on the effects of bilateral chronic stimulation of the anterior intralaminar thalamic nuclei and adjacent paralaminar regions in patients affected by a disorder of consciousness.
The authors evaluated the clinical and radiological data of 29 patients in a vegetative state (unresponsive wakefulness syndrome) and 11 in a minimally conscious state that lasted for more than 6 months. Of these patients, 5 were selected for bilateral stereotactic implantation of deep brain stimulating electrodes into their thalamus. A definitive consensus for surgery was obtained for 3 of the selected patients. All 3 patients (2 in a vegetative state and 1 in a minimally conscious state) underwent implantation of bilateral thalamic electrodes and submitted to chronic stimulation for a minimum of 18 months and a maximum of 48 months.
In each case, there was an increase in desynchronization and the power spectrum of electroencephalograms, and improvement in the Coma Recovery Scale–Revised scores was found. Furthermore, the severity of limb spasticity and the number and severity of pathological movements were reduced. However, none of these patients returned to a fully conscious state.
Despite the limited number of patients studied, the authors confirmed that bilateral thalamic stimulation can improve the clinical status of patients affected by a disorder of consciousness, even though this stimulation did not induce persistent, clinically evident conscious behavior in the patients.
Clinical trial registration no.: NCT01027572 (ClinicalTrials.gov)