Residual cerebral activity and behavioural fragments can remain in the persistently vegetative brain.
Glucose utilization by normal and neoplastic cerebral tissue can be measured in humans using positron emission tomography (PET) with fluorine-18-labeled 2-deoxy-D-glucose (FDG). Malignant gliomas are known to exhibit hypermetabolic glucose consumption compared to normal brain. Barbiturate-sensitive cerebral glucose utilization is coupled to neuronal activity, and lesions lacking neuronal activity should be relatively insensitive to barbiturate suppression of glucose utilization. In a study to examine this phenomenon, three patients with cerebral gliomas underwent FDG-PET while awake and during deep barbiturate coma. Cerebral glucose utilization was measured in normal brain, tumor, and a homologous, non-neoplastic control site in the contralateral hemisphere. A glucose utilization ratio for tumor/control tissue was calculated. The mean reduction of glucose utilization during barbiturate coma was: gray matter 67%, white matter 47%, basal ganglia 66%, thalamus 57%, cerebellar cortex 55%, tumor 32%, and the contralateral control site 64%. The mean tumor glucose utilization ratio was 1.48:1 in the awake state and 2.69:1 during barbiturate coma. The changes in gray matter, basal ganglia, thalamus, cerebellar cortex, and tumor/control tissue ratio were significant (p less than 0.05). In one patient, deep tumor invasion not evident on computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, or baseline FDG-PET was apparent during barbiturate-enhanced FDG-PET scanning. The study findings suggest that gliomas resist suppression of glucose utilization by barbiturates; this supports the hypothesis that barbiturates reduce neuronal metabolism by blocking synaptic activity. This differential effect on normal brain and gliomas enhances the capability to assess the extent of neoplastic tissue in brain and may represent the basis for novel therapeutic strategies.