Delta band activity contributes to the identification of command following in disorder of consciousness.


The overt or covert ability to follow commands in patients with disorders of consciousness is considered a sign of awareness and has recently been defined as cortically mediated behaviour. Despite its clinical relevance, the brain signatures of the perceptual processing supporting command following have been elusive. This multimodal study investigates the temporal spectral pattern of electrical brain activity to identify features that differentiated healthy controls from patients both able and unable to follow commands. We combined evidence from behavioural assessment, functional neuroimaging during mental imagery and high-density electroencephalography collected during auditory prediction, from 21 patients and 10 controls. We used a penalised regression model to identify command following using features from electroencephalography. We identified seven well-defined spatiotemporal signatures in the delta, theta and alpha bands that together contribute to identify DoC subjects with and without the ability to follow command, and further distinguished these groups of patients from controls. A fine-grained analysis of these seven signatures enabled us to determine that increased delta modulation at the frontal sensors was the main feature in command following patients. In contrast, higher frequency theta and alpha modulations differentiated controls from both groups of patients. Our findings highlight a key role of spatiotemporally specific delta modulation in supporting cortically mediated behaviour including the ability to follow command. However, patients able to follow commands nevertheless have marked differences in brain activity in comparison with healthy volunteers.