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Front Hum Neurosci. 2019 Jul 17;13:233. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2019.00233. eCollection 2019.

Current Status of Neurofeedback for Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review and the Possibility of Decoded Neurofeedback.

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Computational Neuroscience Laboratories, Department of Decoded Neurofeedback, Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International, Kyoto, Japan.
Department of Psychiatry, Graduate School of Medicine, Kobe University, Kobe, Japan.
Department of Neuropsychiatry, Osaka Medical College, Osaka, Japan.
The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, Melbourne, VIC, Australia.
Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc., Tokyo, Japan.
Flower of Light Clinic for Mind and Body, Tokyo, Japan.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States.
Department of Brain Research Institute, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, United States.
Department of Psychology, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong.
RIKEN Center for Advanced Intelligence Project (AIP), Tokyo, Japan.


Background: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a neuropsychiatric affective disorder that can develop after traumatic life-events. Exposure-based therapy is currently one of the most effective treatments for PTSD. However, exposure to traumatic stimuli is so aversive that a significant number of patients drop-out of therapy during the course of treatment. Among various attempts to develop novel therapies that bypass such aversiveness, neurofeedback appears promising. With neurofeedback, patients can unconsciously self-regulate brain activity via real-time monitoring and feedback of the EEG or fMRI signals. With conventional neurofeedback methods, however, it is difficult to induce neural representation related to specific trauma because the feedback is based on the neural signals averaged within specific brain areas. To overcome this difficulty, novel neurofeedback approaches such as Decoded Neurofeedback (DecNef) might prove helpful. Instead of the average BOLD signals, DecNef allows patients to implicitly regulate multivariate voxel patterns of the BOLD signals related with feared stimuli. As such, DecNef effects are postulated to derive either from exposure or counter-conditioning, or some combination of both. Although the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood. DecNef has been successfully applied to reduce fear responses induced either by fear-conditioned or phobic stimuli among non-clinical participants. Methods: Follows the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines, a systematic review was conducted to compare DecNef effect with those of conventional EEG/fMRI-based neurofeedback on PTSD amelioration. To elucidate the possible mechanisms of DecNef on fear reduction, we mathematically modeled the effects of exposure-based and counter conditioning separately and applied it to the data obtained from past DecNef studies. Finally, we conducted DecNef on four PTSD patients. Here, we review recent advances in application of neurofeedback to PTSD treatments, including the DecNef. This review is intended to be informative for neuroscientists in general as well as practitioners planning to use neurofeedback as a therapeutic strategy for PTSD. Results: Our mathematical model suggested that exposure is the key component for DecNef effects in the past studies. Following DecNef a significant reduction of PTSD severity was observed. This effect was comparable to those reported for conventional neurofeedback approach. Conclusions: Although a much larger number of participants will be needed in future, DecNef could be a promising therapy that bypasses the unpleasantness of conscious exposure associated with conventional therapies for fear related disorders, including PTSD.


PTSD; fMRI decoded neurofeedback (DecNef); multi-voxel decoding; neural reinforcement; neuromodulation; real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging

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