AUTHORS: Nicholson AA, Densmore M, Frewen PA, Neufeld RWJ, Théberge J, Jetly R, Lanius RA, Ros T

Brain Commun, : , March 2023


Collective research has identified a key electroencephalogram signature in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, consisting of abnormally reduced alpha (8–12 Hz) rhythms. We conducted a 20-session, double-blind, randomized controlled trial of alpha desynchronizing neurofeedback in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder over 20 weeks. Our objective was to provide mechanistic evidence underlying potential clinical improvements by examining changes in aberrant post-traumatic stress disorder brain rhythms (namely, alpha oscillations) as a function of neurofeedback treatment. We randomly assigned participants with a primary diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (n = 38) to either an experimental group (n = 20) or a sham-control group (n = 18). A multichannel electroencephalogram cap was used to record whole-scalp resting-state activity pre- and post-neurofeedback treatment, for both the experimental and sham-control post-traumatic stress disorder groups. We first observed significantly reduced relative alpha source power at baseline in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder as compared to an age/sex-matched group of neurotypical healthy controls (n = 32), primarily within regions of the anterior default mode network. Post-treatment, we found that only post-traumatic stress disorder patients in the experimental neurofeedback group demonstrated significant alpha resynchronization within areas that displayed abnormally low alpha power at baseline. In parallel, we observed significantly decreased post-traumatic stress disorder severity scores in the experimental neurofeedback group only, when comparing baseline to post-treatment (Cohen’s d = 0.77) and three-month follow-up scores (Cohen’s d = 0.75), with a remission rate of 60.0% at the three-month follow-up. Overall, our results indicate that neurofeedback training can rescue pathologically reduced alpha rhythmicity, a functional biomarker that has repeatedly been linked to symptoms of hyperarousal and cortical disinhibition in post-traumatic stress disorder. This randomized controlled trial provides long-term evidence suggesting that the ‘alpha rebound effect’ (i.e. homeostatic alpha resynchronization) occurs within key regions of the default mode network previously implicated in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Download PDF