Real-time fMRI neurofeedback training of the amygdala activity with simultaneous EEG in veterans with combat-related PTSD



Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a chronic and disabling neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by insufficient top-down modulation of the amygdala activity by the prefrontal cortex. Real-time fMRI neurofeedback (rtfMRI-nf) is an emerging method with potential for modifying the amygdala-prefrontal interactions. We report the first controlled emotion self-regulation study in veterans with combat-related PTSD utilizing rtfMRI-nf of the amygdala activity. PTSD patients in the experimental group (EG, n = 20) learned to upregulate blood‑oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) activity of the left amygdala (LA) using the rtfMRI-nf during a happy emotion induction task. PTSD patients in the control group (CG, n = 11) were provided with a sham rtfMRI-nf. The study included three rtfMRI-nf training sessions, and EEG recordings were performed simultaneously with fMRI. PTSD severity was assessed before and after the training using the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). The EG participants who completed the study showed a significant reduction in total CAPS ratings, including significant reductions in avoidance and hyperarousal symptoms. They also exhibited a significant reduction in comorbid depression severity. Overall, 80% of the EG participants demonstrated clinically meaningful reductions in CAPS ratings, compared to 38% in the CG. No significant difference in the CAPS rating changes was observed between the groups. During the first rtfMRI-nf session, functional connectivity of the LA with the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) was progressively enhanced, and this enhancement significantly and positively correlated with the initial CAPS ratings. Left-lateralized enhancement in upper alpha EEG coherence also exhibited a significant positive correlation with the initial CAPS. Reduction in PTSD severity between the first and last rtfMRI-nf sessions significantly correlated with enhancement in functional connectivity between the LA and the left DLPFC. Our results demonstrate that the rtfMRI-nf of the amygdala activity has the potential to correct the amygdala-prefrontal functional connectivity deficiencies specific to PTSD.

Full Reference

Zotev, Vadim ; Phillips, Raquel ; Misaki, Masaya ; Wong, Chung Ki ; Wurfel, Brent E. ; Krueger, Frank ; Feldner, Matthew ; Bodurka, Jerzy. (2018). Real-time fMRI neurofeedback training of the amygdala activity with simultaneous EEG in veterans with combat-related PTSD, NeuroImage.Clinical, Vol: 19, p.106-121.