Event-related potential patterns associated with hyperarousal in Gulf War illness syndrome groups

Gail D. Tillman, Clifford S. Calley, Timothy A. Green, Virginia I. Buhl, Melanie M. Biggs, Jeffrey S. Spence, Richard W. Briggs, Robert W. Haley, John Hart, Michael A. Kraut

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


An exaggerated response to emotional stimuli is one of the several symptoms widely reported by veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Many have attributed these symptoms to post-war stress; others have attributed the symptoms to deployment-related exposures and associated damage to cholinergic, dopaminergic, and white matter systems. We collected event-related potential (ERP) data from 20 veterans meeting Haley criteria for Gulf War Syndromes 1-3 and from 8 matched Gulf War veteran controls, who were deployed but not symptomatic, while they performed an auditory three-condition oddball task with gunshot and lion roar sounds as the distractor stimuli. Reports of hyperarousal from the ill veterans were significantly greater than those from the control veterans; different ERP profiles emerged to account for their hyperarousability. Syndromes 2 and 3, who have previously shown brainstem abnormalities, show significantly stronger auditory P1 amplitudes, purported to indicate compromised cholinergic inhibitory gating in the reticular activating system. Syndromes 1 and 2, who have previously shown basal ganglia dysfunction, show significantly weaker P3a response to distractor stimuli, purported to indicate dysfunction of the dopaminergic contribution to their ability to inhibit distraction by irrelevant stimuli. All three syndrome groups showed an attenuated P3b to target stimuli, which could be secondary to both cholinergic and dopaminergic contributions or disruption of white matter integrity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1096-1105
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2012


  • Cholinergic
  • Dopaminergic
  • ERPs
  • Gulf War Illness
  • Hyperarousal
  • P1
  • P3a
  • P3b

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Toxicology


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