Despite the sparseness of the currently available data, there is accumulating evidence of information processing impairment in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Studies of event-related potentials (ERPs) are the main tool in real time examination of information processing. In this paper, we sought to critically review the ERP evidence of information processing abnormalities in patients with PTSD. We also examined the evidence supporting the existence of a relationship between ERP abnormalities and symptom profiles or severity in PTSD patients. An extensive Medline search was performed. Keywords included PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder, electrophysiology or EEG, electrophysiology, P50, P100, N100, P2, P200, P3, P300, sensory gating, CNV (contingent negative variation) and MMN (mismatch negativity). We limited the review to ERP adult human studies with control groups which were reported in the English language. After applying our inclusion-exclusion review criteria, 36 studies were included. Subjects exposed to wide ranges of military and civilian traumas were studied in these reports. Presented stimuli were both auditory and visual. The most widely studied components included P300, P50 gating, N100 and P200. Most of the studies reported increased P300 response to trauma-related stimuli in PTSD patients. A smaller group of studies reported dampening of responses or no change in responses to trauma-related and/or unrelated stimuli. P50 studies were strongly suggestive of impaired gating in patients with PTSD. In conclusion, the majority of reports support evidence of information processing abnormalities in patients with PTSD diagnosis. The predominance of evidence suggests presence of mid-latency and late ERP components differences in PTSD patients in comparison to healthy controls. Heterogeneity of assessment methods used contributes to difficulties in reaching firm conclusions regarding the nature of these differences. We suggest that future ERP-PTSD studies utilize standardized assessment scales that provide detailed information regarding the symptom clusters and the degree of symptom severity. This would allow assessment of electrophysiological indices-clinical symptoms relationships. Based on the available data, we suggest that ERP abnormalities in PTSD are possibly affected by the level of illness severity. If supported by future research, ERP studies may be used for both initial assessment and treatment follow-up.
Javanbakht et al.: Event-related potential studies of post-traumatic stress disorder: a critical review and synthesis. Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders 2011 1:5.