Neurophysiology of threat processing bias in combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder

Bambi L. DeLaRosa, Jeffrey S Spence, Nyaz Didehbani, Gail D. Tillman, Michael A. Motes, Christina Bass, Michael A. Kraut, John Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that may develop after experiencing a traumatic event. Combat exposure increases an individual's chance of developing PTSD, making veterans especially susceptible to the disorder. PTSD is characterized by dysregulated emotional networks, memory deficits, and a hyperattentive response to perceived threatening stimuli. Recently, there have been a number of imaging studies that show structural and functional abnormalities associated with PTSD; however, there have been few studies utilizing electroencephalography (EEG). The goal of this study was to characterize **EEG brain dynamics in individuals with PTSD, in order to better understand the neurophysiological underpinnings of some of the salient features of PTSD, such as threat-processing bias. Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom completed an implicit visual threat semantic memory recognition task with stimuli that varied on both category (animals, items, nature, and people) and feature (threatening and nonthreatening) membership, including trauma-related stimuli. Combat veterans with PTSD had slower reaction times for the threatening stimuli relative to the combat veterans without PTSD (VETC). There were trauma-specific effects in frontal regions, with theta band EEG power reductions for the threatening combat scenes in the PTSD patients compared to the VETC group. Additionally, a moderate negative correlation was observed between trauma-specific frontal theta power and hyperarousal symptoms as measured by clinically administered PTSD scale. These findings complement and extend current models of cortico-limbic dysfunction in PTSD. The moderate negative correlation between frontal theta power and hyperarousal endorsements suggests the utility of these measures as therapeutic markers of symptomatology in PTSD patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)218-229
Number of pages12
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


  • electroencephalography
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • theta
  • threat processing
  • veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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