Emotional Modulation of Frontal Alpha Asymmetry: a Novel Biomarker of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

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Objective findings of brain injury or dysfunction are typically lacking in mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) despite prolonged post-concussion symptoms in some patients. Thus, there is a need for objective biomarkers of MTBI that reflect altered brain physiology underlying subjective symptoms. We have previously reported increased attention to threat-related stimuli in subjects with MTBI, suggesting a physiological vulnerability to depression. Vulnerability to depression has been linked with relatively greater activity of the right than left frontal cortex reflected in inverse pattern in frontal alpha with greater power on the left than right. We investigated whether patients with previous MTBI show this pattern of frontal activity reflected in more negative frontal alpha asymmetry (FAA) scores. Furthermore, in search for potential biomarkers of MTBI, we created a novel index, emotional modulation of FAA (eFAA) and investigated whether it correlates with subjective symptoms. EEG was recorded while subjects with previous MTBI and controls performed a computer-based reaction time task integrating different cognitive executive functions and containing either threat-related or emotionally neutral visual stimuli. Post-concussion symptoms and depression were assessed using the Rivermead Post-Concussion Symptoms Questionnaire (RPQ) and Beck’s depression inventory (BDI). Task-induced FAA was assessed and eFAA calculated by subtracting FAA in the context of neutral stimuli from FAA in the context of emotional stimuli. The MTBI group showed FAA scores reflecting relatively greater right-sided frontal activity compared to healthy controls. eFAA differentiated the symptomatic MTBI from non-symptomatic MTBI group and from healthy controls. eFAA also correlated with RPQ and BDI scores. In conclusion, FAA pattern previously linked with vulnerability to depression, was observed in patients with previous MTBI. Furthermore, eFAA has potential as a biomarker of altered affective brain functions in MTBI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number699947
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • biomarker
  • depression
  • EEG
  • emotion
  • frontal alpha asymmetry (FAA)
  • mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI)
  • post-concussion symptoms
  • threat

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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