Three-modality evoked potentials (EPs) have been used for several years in association with the electroencephalogram (EEG) as a diagnostic and prognostic tool in acute traumatic or nontraumatic coma. In 1993 we proposed to combine these in two indices: the index of global cortical function (IGCF) and the index of brain-stem conduction (IBSC). Four EP patterns based on both indices emerge at the acute stage of severe head trauma. These are easily explainable by pathophysiology. Pattern 1 corresponds to alterations in the index of global cortical function without changes in the index of brain-stem conduction. Its prognosis is good (80 to 90% of these patients recover). Pattern 2 is characterized by alterations of somatosensory EPs that are suggestive of midbrain dysfunction. The prognosis depends both on the reversibility of the midbrain dysfunction and on the extent of associated diffuse axonal lesions, whose evaluation requires MRI. Patients who recovered from Pattern 2 sometimes did so after a long interval during which they remained vegetative. Pattern 3 is characterized by alterations of brain-stem auditory EPs that are suggestive of pontine involvement. It usually follows uncontrolled intracranial hypertension and corresponds to evolving transtentorial herniation. All patients with that transient pattern eventually died. Pattern 4 is categorized by the disappearance of all activities of intracranial origin, contrasting with the preservation of all activities of retinal, spinal-cord, and peripheral-nerve origin. This pattern corresponds to brain death. In our experience, three-modality EPs are currently the best bedside brain-death confirmatory tool.
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