Teasing apart trauma: neural oscillations differentiate individual cases of mild traumatic brain injury from post-traumatic stress disorder even when symptoms overlap Academic Article uri icon

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  • AbstractPost-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) are highly prevalent and closely related disorders. Affected individuals often exhibit substantially overlapping symptomatology – a major challenge for differential diagnosis in both military and civilian contexts. According to our symptom assessment, the PTSD group exhibited comparable levels of concussion symptoms and severity to the mTBI group. An objective and reliable system to uncover the key neural signatures differentiating these disorders would be an important step towards translational and applied clinical use. Here we explore use of MEG (magnetoencephalography)-multivariate statistical learning analysis in identifying the neural features for differential PTSD/mTBI characterisation. Resting state MEG-derived regional neural activity and coherence (or functional connectivity) across seven canonical neural oscillation frequencies (delta to high gamma) were used. The selected features were consistent and largely confirmatory with previously established neurophysiological markers for the two disorders. For regional power from theta, alpha and high gamma bands, the amygdala, hippocampus and temporal areas were identified. In line with regional activity, additional connections within the occipital, parietal and temporal regions were selected across a number of frequency bands. This study is the first to employ MEG-derived neural features to reliably and differentially stratify the two disorders in a multi-group context. The features from alpha and beta bands exhibited the best classification performance, even in cases where distinction by concussion symptom profiles alone were extremely difficult. We demonstrate the potential of using ‘invisible’ neural indices of brain functioning to understand and differentiate these debilitating conditions.


  • Zhang, Jing
  • Emami, Zahra
  • Safar, Kristina
  • McCunn, Patrick
  • Richardson, Donald
  • Rhind, Shawn G
  • da Costa, Leodante
  • Jetly, Rakesh
  • Dunkley, Benjamin T

publication date

  • June 4, 2021