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Cleve Clin J Med. 2010 Jul;77 Suppl 3:S60-7. doi: 10.3949/ccjm.77.s3.11.

Biofeedback in the treatment of epilepsy.

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Departments of Neurobiology and Biobehavioral Psychiatry, Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


This review traces the application of electroencephalographic (EEG) operant conditioning, or biofeedback, from animal research to its emergence as an alternative treatment for the major types of seizure disorder. Initial animal studies focusing on brain mechanisms that mediate learned behavioral inhibition revealed a uniquely correlated 12- to 15-Hz EEG rhythm localized to sensorimotor cortex. We labeled this the sensorimotor rhythm, or SMR. The similarity of the SMR to the known EEG spindle pattern during quiet sleep led to the novel idea of attempting to increase the SMR using EEG operant conditioning. The hypothesis was that this might produce a corresponding increase in sleep spindle activity, thus establishing a common EEG marker for the state of motor inhibition. Results supported this hypothesis but led also to the accidental discovery of an anticonvulsant effect on drug-induced seizures in cats and monkeys. Continuing animal studies identified a pattern of neurophysiologic responses correlated with the SMR in primary motor pathways. These and other findings were indicative of reduced motor excitability. Simultaneously, we undertook studies in human epileptic subjects that documented a significant reduction in seizure incidence and severity, together with EEG pattern normalization. This work expanded internationally, resulting in numerous well-controlled group and single-case studies summarized in recent meta-analyses. Exciting new findings in functional neuroimaging/EEG correlation studies provide a rational model for the basis of these clinical effects. In recognition of the diversity of clinical applications of EEG biofeedback and the complexity of seizure disorders, this review also details specific methods used in our EEG biofeedback program.

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