Severe traumatic brain injuries typically result in loss of consciousness or coma. In deeply comatose patients with traumatic brain injury, cortical dynamics become simple, repetitive, and predictable. We review evidence that this low-complexity, high-predictability state results from a passive cortical state, represented by a stable repetitive attractor, that hinders the flexible formation of neuronal ensembles necessary for conscious experience. Our data and those from other groups support the hypothesis that this cortical passive state is because of the loss of thalamocortical input. We identify the unpredictability and complexity of cortical dynamics captured by local field potential as a sign of recovery from this passive coma attractor. In this Perspective article, we discuss how these electrophysiological biomarkers of the recovery of consciousness could inform the design of closed-loop stimulation paradigms to treat disorders of consciousness.

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