Study finds difference in way bipolar disorder affects brains of children versus adults

June 18, 2014

A new study from Bradley Hospital has found that bipolar children have greater activation in the right amygdala – a brain region very important for emotional reaction – than bipolar adults when viewing emotional faces. The study, now published online in JAMA Psychiatry, suggests that bipolar children might benefit from treatments that target emotional face identification, such as computer based "brain games" or group and individual therapy.

This study is the first ever meta-analysis to directly compare brain changes in bipolar children to bipolar adults, using data from 100 functional MRI (fMRI) brain imaging studies with a pool of thousands of participants. Ezra Wegbreit, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at Bradley Hospital, led the study along with senior author Daniel Dickstein, M.D., director of the PediMIND Program at Bradley Hospital.

"Bipolar disorder is among the most debilitating psychiatric illnesses affecting adults worldwide, with an estimated prevalence of one to four percent of the adult population, but more than 40 percent of adults report their started in childhood rather than adulthood," said Wegbreit. "Despite this, very few studies have examined whether brain or behavioral changes exist that are specific to children with bipolar disorder versus adults with bipolar disorder."

While fMRI studies have begun to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying bipolar disorder, few have directly compared differences in youths with bipolar disorder and bipolar adults. To address this gap, the research team conducted the large scale meta-analyses, directly comparing fMRI findings in bipolar youths versus bipolar adults, both relative to non-bipolar participants.

Analysis of emotional face recognition fMRI studies showed significantly greater amygdala activity among bipolar youths than bipolar adults. The team also analyzed studies using emotional stimuli, which again showed significantly greater levels of brain activation in bipolar children, this time in the inferior frontal gyrus and precuneus areas of the brain. In contrast, analyses of fMRI studies using non-emotional cognitive tasks showed a significant lack of brain activation in the anterior cingulate cortex of bipolar children.

"Our meta-analysis has located different regions of the brain that are either hyper active or under active in children with bipolar disorder," said Wegbreit. "These point us to the targeted areas of the brain that relate to emotional dysfunction and cognitive deficits for children with bipolar disorder."

"Despite our best current treatments, bipolar disorder exacts a considerable toll on youths, including problems with friends, parents and at school, and high rates of psychiatric hospitalization and suicide attempts," said Dickstein. "More research into targeted treatments is needed now that we know children's brains are impacted in specific, identifiable ways by bipolar disorder."

Dickstein added that Bradley Hospital's PediMIND Program is currently conducting several research projects on pediatric bipolar disorder, including potential brain-based treatment. "Understanding more about the brains of children and adults with mental illness is very important because, ultimately, all mental illnesses are reflected in changes in brain activity," said Dickstein. "Locating the underlying brain change in bipolar youths could lead us to new, brain-based ways to improve how we diagnose and treat this disorder."

Ongoing studies by the PediMIND Program and other research groups are working to determine if computer-based "" or group or individual therapy might improve these changes in a more targeted way, and improve the lives of children and adults with bipolar disorder.

Explore further: Brain booster for bipolar disorder

Related Stories

Brain booster for bipolar disorder

May 19, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Providing the brain with an energy boost could be a new way to treat bipolar depression.

New findings out on brain networks in children at risk for mental disorders

June 5, 2014
Attention deficits are central to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and are thought to precede the presentation of the illnesses. A new study led by Wayne State University School of Medicine ...

How do happiness and sadness circuits contribute to bipolar disorder?

January 14, 2013
Bipolar disorder is a severe mood disorder characterized by unpredictable and dramatic mood swings between the highs of mania and lows of depression. These mood episodes occur among periods of 'normal mood', termed euthymia.

Higher discharge rate for BPD in children and adolescents in the US compared to UK

May 22, 2014
A study published in the June 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found a very much higher discharge rate for pediatric bipolar (PBD) in children and adolescents aged 1-19 ...

Brain imaging identifies bipolar risk

December 17, 2012
(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 ...

Recommended for you

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

Wonder why those happy memories fade? You're programmed that way

July 19, 2017
We'll always have Paris." Or will we?

A child's spoken vocabulary helps them when it comes to reading new words for the first time

July 19, 2017
Children find it easier to spell a word when they've already heard it spoken, a new study led by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) at Macquarie University has found. The findings ...

0 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.