Home » Bipolar Disorder » Abnormal Brain Activity Seen in Teens at Risk of Bipolar Disorder

Abnormal Brain Activity Seen in Teens at Risk of Bipolar Disorder

Abnormal Brain Activity Seen in Teens at Risk of Bipolar DisorderResearchers report imaging technology can detect abnormal brain activity among young people at high risk for bipolar disorder.

Investigators from the University of New South Wales and Black Dog Institute in Sydney, Australia, discovered brain imaging technology detects clear and quantifiable differences in brain activity among asymptomatic, young people with a known risk of bipolar.

The finding is important as more than 4 percent of Americans have met diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder, as compared with a worldwide average of about 2 percent.

“We found that the young people who had a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder had reduced brain responses to emotive faces, particularly a fearful face. This is an extremely promising breakthrough,” said study leader UNSW Philip Mitchell, M.D.

Experts say early detection and identification of bipolar disorder greatly improves treatment and management outcomes.

“We know that bipolar is primarily a biological illness with a strong genetic influence but triggers are yet to be understood.

“Being able to identify young people at risk will enable implementation of early intervention programs, giving them the best chance for a long and happy life,” said  Mitchell.

Bipolar disorder involves extreme and often unpredictable fluctuations in mood. The mood swings and associated behaviors such as disinhibited behavior, aggression and severe depression can have a devastating impact on day-to-day life, careers and relationships.

Bipolar also has the highest suicide rate of all psychiatric disorders.

In the current study, researchers used functional MRI to visualize brain activity when participants were shown pictures of happy, fearful or calm (neutral) human faces. Results showed that those with a genetic risk of bipolar displayed significantly reduced brain activity in a specific part of the brain known to regulate emotional responses.

“Our results show that bipolar disorder may be linked to a dysfunction in emotional regulation and this is something we will continue to explore,” Mitchell said. “And we now have an extremely promising method of identifying children and young people at risk of bipolar disorder.”

“We expect that early identification will significantly improve outcomes for people that go on to develop bipolar disorder, and possibly even prevent onset in some people.”

Source: University of New South Wales

Doctor Readying x rays photo by shutterstock.

Abnormal Brain Activity Seen in Teens at Risk of Bipolar Disorder

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Abnormal Brain Activity Seen in Teens at Risk of Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 18 Dec 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.