Brain imaging identifies bipolar risk

(Medical Xpress)—Researchers from the Black Dog Institute and University of NSW have used brain imaging technology to show that young people with a known genetic risk of bipolar but no clinical signs of the condition have clear and quantifiable differences in brain activity when compared to controls.

"We found that the young people who had a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder had reduced to emotive faces, particularly a fearful face. This is an extremely promising breakthrough," says study leader Professor Philip Mitchell.

Affecting around 1 in 75 Australians, bipolar disorder involves extreme and often unpredictable fluctuations in mood. The and associated behaviours such as disinhibited behaviour, aggression and , have a significant impact on day-to-day life, careers and relationships. Bipolar has the highest suicide rate of all psychiatric disorders.

"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," says Prof Mitchell.

Researchers used functional MRI to visualise when participants were shown pictures of happy, fearful or calm (neutral) human faces. Results showed that those with a 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," Professor 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."

Results are published this week in Biological Psychiatry and come from the NHMRC-funded 'Kids and Sibs study', the biggest research study in the world focusing on genetic and environmental aspects of bipolar disorder. Based at the Black Dog Institute, the trial is still recruiting.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

Could there be a bright side to depression?

Nov 21, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—A group of researchers studying the roots of depression has developed a test that leads them closer to the idea that depression may actually be an adaptation meant to help people cope with ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.