Pharmaco-EEG Studies in Animals: A History-Based Introduction to Contemporary Translational Applications

Neuropsychobiology. 2015;72(3-4):139-50. doi: 10.1159/000443175. Epub 2016 Feb 23.


Current research on the effects of pharmacological agents on human neurophysiology finds its roots in animal research, which is also reflected in contemporary animal pharmaco-electroencephalography (p-EEG) applications. The contributions, present value and translational appreciation of animal p-EEG-based applications are strongly interlinked with progress in recording and neuroscience analysis methodology. After the pioneering years in the late 19th and early 20th century, animal p-EEG research flourished in the pharmaceutical industry in the early 1980s. However, around the turn of the millennium the emergence of structurally and functionally revealing imaging techniques and the increasing application of molecular biology caused a temporary reduction in the use of EEG as a window into the brain for the prediction of drug efficacy. Today, animal p-EEG is applied again for its biomarker potential - extensive databases of p-EEG and polysomnography studies in rats and mice hold EEG signatures of a broad collection of psychoactive reference and test compounds. A multitude of functional EEG measures has been investigated, ranging from simple spectral power and sleep-wake parameters to advanced neuronal connectivity and plasticity parameters. Compared to clinical p-EEG studies, where the level of vigilance can be well controlled, changes in sleep-waking behaviour are generally a prominent confounding variable in animal p-EEG studies and need to be dealt with. Contributions of rodent pharmaco-sleep EEG research are outlined to illustrate the value and limitations of such preclinical p-EEG data for pharmacodynamic and chronopharmacological drug profiling. Contemporary applications of p-EEG and pharmaco-sleep EEG recordings in animals provide a common and relatively inexpensive window into the functional brain early in the preclinical and clinical development of psychoactive drugs in comparison to other brain imaging techniques. They provide information on the impact of drugs on arousal and sleep architecture, assessing their neuropharmacological characteristics in vivo, including central exposure and information on kinetics. In view of the clear disadvantages as well as advantages of animal p-EEG as compared to clinical p-EEG, general statements about the usefulness of EEG as a biomarker to demonstrate the translatability of p-EEG effects should be made with caution, however, because they depend on the particular EEG or sleep parameter that is being studied. The contribution of animal p-EEG studies to the translational characterisation of centrally active drugs can be furthered by adherence to guidelines for methodological standardisation, which are presently under construction by the International Pharmaco-EEG Society (IPEG).

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Waves / drug effects*
  • Central Nervous System Agents / pharmacology*
  • Electroencephalography / history*
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Models, Animal
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Translational Research, Biomedical / history*


  • Central Nervous System Agents