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Clinical Applications for EPs in the ICU

Koenig, Matthew A.*,†; Kaplan, Peter W.

Journal of Clinical Neurophysiology: December 2015 - Volume 32 - Issue 6 - p 472–480
doi: 10.1097/WNP.0000000000000215
Invited Review

Summary: In critically ill patients, evoked potential (EP) testing is an important tool for measuring neurologic function, signal transmission, and secondary processing of sensory information in real time. Evoked potential measures conduction along the peripheral and central sensory pathways with longer-latency potentials representing more complex thalamocortical and intracortical processing. In critically ill patients with limited neurologic exams, EP provides a window into brain function and the potential for recovery of consciousness. The most common EP modalities in clinical use in the intensive care unit include somatosensory evoked potentials, brainstem auditory EPs, and cortical event-related potentials. The primary indications for EP in critically ill patients are prognostication in anoxic–ischemic or traumatic coma, monitoring for neurologic improvement or decline, and confirmation of brain death. Somatosensory evoked potentials had become an important prognostic tool for coma recovery, especially in comatose survivors of cardiac arrest. In this population, the bilateral absence of cortical somatosensory evoked potentials has nearly 100% specificity for death or persistent vegetative state. Historically, EP has been regarded as a negative prognostic test, that is, the absence of cortical potentials is associated with poor outcomes while the presence cortical potentials are prognostically indeterminate. In recent studies, the presence of middle-latency and long-latency potentials as well as the amplitude of cortical potentials is more specific for good outcomes. Event-related potentials, particularly mismatch negativity of complex auditory patterns, is emerging as an important positive prognostic test in patients under comatose. Multimodality predictive algorithms that combine somatosensory evoked potentials, event-related potentials, and clinical and radiographic factors are gaining favor for coma prognostication.

*Neuroscience Institute, The Queen's Medical Center, Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.;

The University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine, Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.; and

Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Matthew A. Koenig, MD, Neuroscience Institute, The Queen's Medical Center, QET5, 1301 Punchbowl Street, Honolulu, HI 96813, U.S.A.; e-mail:

© 2015 by the American Clinical Neurophysiology Society