EEG correlates of the severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms: A systematic review of the dimensional PTSD literature

J Affect Disord. 2015 Sep 1;183:210-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.05.015. Epub 2015 May 15.


Background: Considering the Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) framework, it is crucial to investigate posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a spectrum that ranges from normal to pathological. This dimensional approach is especially important to aid early PTSD detection and to guide better treatment options. In recent years, electroencephalography (EEG) has been used to investigate PTSD; however, reviews regarding EEG data related to PTSD are lacking, especially considering the dimensional approach. This systematic review examined the literature regarding EEG alterations in trauma-exposed people with posttraumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) to identify putative EEG biomarkers of PTSS severity.

Method: A systematic review of EEG studies of trauma-exposed participants with PTSS that reported dimensional analyses (e.g., correlations or regressions) between PTSS and EEG measures was performed.

Results: The literature search yielded 1178 references, of which 34 studies were eligible for inclusion. Despite variability among the reviewed studies, the PTSS severity was often associated with P2, P3-family event-related potentials (ERPs) and alpha rhythms.

Limitations: The search was limited to articles published in English; no information about non-published studies or studies reported in other languages was obtained. Another limitation was the heterogeneity of studies, which made meta-analysis challenging.

Conclusions: EEG provides promising candidates to act as biomarkers, although further studies are required to confirm the findings. Thus, EEG, in addition to being cheaper and easier to implement than other central techniques, has the potential to reveal biomarkers of PTSS severity.

Keywords: EEG; ERP; PTSD; Posttraumatic stress symptoms; Spectral analysis; Trauma.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Electroencephalography / methods*
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*