Brain/Computer Interaction (BCI) devices are designed to alter neural signals and, thereby, mental activity. This study was a randomized, waitlist (TAU) controlled trial of a BCI, EEG neurofeedback training (NF), in patients with chronic PTSD to explore the capacity of NF to reduce PTSD symptoms and increase affect regulation capacities.
52 individuals with chronic PTSD were randomized to either NF (n = 28) or waitlist (WL) (n = 24). They completed four evaluations, at baseline (T1), after week 6 (T2), at post-treatment (T3), and at one month follow up (T4). Assessment measures were:1. Traumatic Events Screening Inventory (T1); 2. the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS; T1, T3, T4); 3. the Davidson Trauma Scale (DTS; T1-T4) and 4. the Inventory of Altered Self-Capacities (IASC; T1-T4). NF training occurred two times per week for 12 weeks and involved a sequential placement with T4 as the active site, P4 as the reference site.
Participants had experienced an average of 9.29 (SD = 2.90) different traumatic events. Post-treatment a significantly smaller proportion of NF (6/22, 27.3%) met criteria for PTSD than the WL condition (15/22, 68.2%), χ2 (n = 44, df = 1) = 7.38, p = .007. There was a significant treatment condition x time interaction (b = -10.45, t = -5.10, p< .001). Measures of tension reduction activities, affect dysregulation, and affect instability exhibited a significant Time x Condition interaction. The effect sizes of NF (d = -2.33 within, d = - 1.71 between groups) are comparable to those reported for the most effective evidence based treatments for PTSD.
Compared with the control group NF produced significant PTSD symptom improvement in individuals with chronic PTSD, as well as in affect regulation capacities. NF deserves further investigation for its potential to ameliorate PTSD and to improve affect regulation, and to clarify its mechanisms of action.
Electroencephalographic (EEG ) neurofeedback training has been shown to produce plastic modulations in salience network and default mode network functional connectivity in healthy individuals. In this study, we investigated whether a single session of neurofeedback training aimed at the voluntary reduction of alpha rhythm (8–12 Hz) amplitude would be related to differences in EEG network oscillations, functional MRI (fMRI ) connectivity, and subjective measures of state anxiety and arousal in a group of individuals with post‐traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Twenty‐one individuals with PTSD related to childhood abuse underwent 30 min of EEG neurofeedback training preceded and followed by a resting‐state fMRI scan.
Alpha desynchronizing neurofeedback was associated with decreased alpha amplitude during training, followed by a significant increase (‘rebound’) in resting‐state alpha synchronization. This rebound was linked to increased calmness, greater salience network connectivity with the right insula, and enhanced default mode network connectivity with bilateral posterior cingulate, right middle frontal gyrus, and left medial prefrontal cortex.
Our study represents a first step in elucidating the potential neurobehavioural mechanisms mediating the effects of neurofeedback treatment on regulatory systems in PTSD . Moreover, it documents for the first time a spontaneous EEG ‘rebound’ after neurofeedback, pointing to homeostatic/compensatory mechanisms operating in the brain.
Current Status of Neurofeedback for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review and the Possibility of Decoded Neurofeedback
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a neuropsychiatric affective disorder that can develop after traumatic life-events. Exposure-based therapy is currently one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. However, exposure to traumatic stimuli is so aversive that a significant number of patients drop-out of therapy during the course of treatment. Among various attempts to develop novel therapies that bypass such aversiveness, neurofeedback appears promising. With neurofeedback, patients can unconsciously self-regulate brain activity via real-time monitoring and feedback of the EEG or fMRI signals. With conventional neurofeedback methods, however, it is difficult to induce neural representation related to specific trauma because the feedback is based on the neural signals averaged within specific brain areas. To overcome this difficulty, novel neurofeedback approaches such as Decoded Neurofeedback (DecNef) might prove helpful. Instead of the average BOLD signals, DecNef allows patients to implicitly regulate multivariate voxel patterns of the BOLD signals related with feared stimuli. As such, DecNef effects are postulated to derive either from exposure or counter-conditioning, or some combination of both. Although the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood. DecNef has been successfully applied to reduce fear responses induced either by fear-conditioned or phobic stimuli among non-clinical participants.
Follows the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, a systematic review was conducted to compare DecNef effect with those of conventional EEG/fMRI-based neurofeedback on PTSD amelioration. To elucidate the possible mechanisms of DecNef on fear reduction, we mathematically modeled the effects of exposure-based and counter conditioning separately and applied it to the data obtained from past DecNef studies. Finally, we conducted DecNef on four PTSD patients. Here, we review recent advances in application of neurofeedback to PTSD treatments, including the DecNef. This review is intended to be informative for neuroscientists in general as well as practitioners planning to use neurofeedback as a therapeutic strategy for PTSD.
Our mathematical model suggested that exposure is the key component for DecNef effects in the past studies. Following DecNef a significant reduction of PTSD severity was observed. This effect was comparable to those reported for conventional neurofeedback approach.
Although a much larger number of participants will be needed in future, DecNef could be a promising therapy that bypasses the unpleasantness of conscious exposure associated with conventional therapies for fear related disorders, including PTSD.
EEG Biofeedback (also known as neurofeedback) has been in use as a clinical intervention for well over 30 years; however, it has made very little impact on clinical care. One reason for this has been the difficulty in designing research to measure clinical change in the real world. While substantial evidence exists for its efficacy in treating attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, relatively little evidence exists for its utility in other disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The current study represents a “proof-of-concept” pilot for the use of neurofeedback with multiply-traumatized individuals with treatment-resistant PTSD. Participants completed 40 sessions of neurofeedback training two times per week with sensors randomly assigned (by the study coordinator, who was not blind to condition) to sensor placements of either T4-P4 or T3-T4.
We found that neurofeedback significantly reduced PTSD symptoms (Davidson Trauma Scale scores averaged 69.14 at baseline to 49.26 at termination), and preceded gains in affect regulation (Inventory of Altered Self-Capacities-Affect Dysregulation scores averaged 23.63 at baseline to 17.20 at termination). We discuss a roadmap for future research.