Ictal Theta Power as an Electroconvulsive Therapy Safety Biomarker: A Pilot Study

J ECT. 2022 Jun 1;38(2):88-94. doi: 10.1097/YCT.0000000000000812.


Objective: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) remains the benchmark for treatment resistant depression, yet its cognitive adverse effects have a negative impact on treatment. A predictive safety biomarker early in ECT treatment is needed to identify patients at cognitive risk to maximize therapeutic outcomes and minimize adverse effects. We used ictal electroencephalography frequency analysis from suprathreshold treatments to assess the relationships between ECT dose, ictal power across different frequency domains, and cognitive outcomes.

Methods: Seventeen subjects with treatment resistant depression received right unilateral ECT. Structural magnetic resonance imaging was obtained pre-ECT for electric field modeling to assess ECT dose. Serial assessments with 24-lead electroencephalography captured ictal activity. Clinical and cognitive assessments were performed before and after ECT. The primary cognitive outcome was the change in Delis Kaplan Executive Function Verbal Fluency Letter Fluency.

Results: Ictal theta (4-8 Hz) power in the Fp1/Fp2 channels was associated with both whole-brain electric field strength (t(2,12) = 19.5, P = 0.007)/(t(2,10) = 21.85, P = 0.02) and Delis Kaplan Executive Function Verbal Fluency Letter Fluency scores (t(2,12) = -2.05, P = 0.05)/(t(2,10) = -2.20, P = 0.01). Other frequency bands (beta, alpha, delta, and gamma) did not demonstrate this relationship.

Conclusions: This pilot data identify ictal theta power as a potential safety biomarker in ECT and is related to the strength of the ECT dose. Ictal theta power could prove to be a convenient and powerful tool for clinicians to identify those patients most susceptible to cognitive impairment early in the treatment series. Additional studies are needed to assess the role of longitudinal changes in ictal theta power throughout the ECT series.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Brain
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy* / methods
  • Electroencephalography / methods
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers