Researchers 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