Risk for bipolar disorder associated with faster aging

July 26, 2017
Bipolar disorder is characterized by transitions between depression and mania. Credit: Wikipedia

New King's College London research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may 'age' more rapidly than those without a history of the disease.

The study, published today in Neuropsychopharmacology, also shows that bipolar treated with lithium—the main medication for the illness—have longer telomeres (a sign of slower biological ageing) compared to bipolar disorder patients not treated with lithium. This suggests that the drug may mask the ageing effects associated with bipolar disorder, or even help to reverse it.

Faster ageing at the biological level could explain why rates of ageing-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity are higher amongst bipolar disorder patients. However, more research is needed in the relatives of bipolar disorder patients to better understand if they are also at a higher risk for ageing-related diseases.

Unaffected first-degree relatives represent a group of individuals at risk for bipolar disorder who have not been treated with medications, so studying them may represent a truer reflection of the relationship between ageing and bipolar disorder. To measure biological ageing, the researchers studied a feature of chromosomes called telomeres in 63 patients with bipolar disorder, 74 first-degree relatives and 80 unrelated healthy people.

Telomeres sit on the end of our chromosomes and act like 'caps', protecting the strands of DNA stored inside each of our cells as we age. Telomeres shorten each time a cell divides to make new cells, until they are so short that they are totally degraded and cells are no longer able to replicate. Telomere length therefore acts as a marker of biological age, with shortened telomeres representing older cells, and commonly older individuals.

The rate at which telomeres shorten across our lifespan can vary, based on a range of environmental and genetic factors. This means that two unrelated people of the same chronological age may not be the same age biologically.

The researchers from King's College London and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that healthy relatives of bipolar patients had shorter telomeres compared to healthy controls (who had no risk for the disorder running in their family). This suggests that genetic or environmental factors associated with family risk for bipolar disorder are also linked to faster biological ageing.

They also conducted MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to explore the relationship between and brain structure, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in the regulation of mood. They discovered that higher rates of biological ageing (i.e. shorter telomeres) were associated with having a smaller hippocampus.

The study authors suggest that a reduction in telomere length may be associated with a reduced ability of new brain cells to grow in the hippocampus, which can reduce the size of the hippocampus and consequently increase risk for mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.

Dr Timothy Powell, first author of the study, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, said: 'Our study provides the first evidence that familial risk for bipolar disorder is associated with , which may explain why bipolar disorder patients are also at a greater risk for ageing-related diseases.

'We still need to dissect the environmental and genetic contributions to shortened telomeres in those at high risk for bipolar disorder. For instance, do those at risk for bipolar disorder carry genes predisposing them to faster biological ageing, or are they more likely to partake in environmental factors which promote ageing (e.g. smoking, poor diet)? Identifying modifiable risk factors to prevent advanced ageing would be a really important next step.'

Dr Sophia Frangou, co-senior author of the study, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said: 'Our study shows that telomere length is a promising biomarker of biological ageing and susceptibility to disease in the context of bipolar disorder. Moreover, it suggests that proteins which protect against shortening may provide novel treatment targets for people with bipolar disorder and those predisposed to it.'

Dr Gerome Breen, co-senior author, also at IoPPN, said: 'Up to now it has been unclear whether or not patients are at risk of accelerated ageing. This study shows that they are at greater risk of faster ageing and drugs commonly used to treat the disorder may actually mask or reverse this effect.'

Explore further: Faster biological ageing could increase risk for depression in childhood

Related Stories

Faster biological ageing could increase risk for depression in childhood

February 24, 2017
Genetic factors which predispose people to accelerated 'biological ageing' also increase their risk of developing depression in childhood, according to a new study from King's College London.

Researchers identify genes in children linked to stress, bipolar disorder

May 8, 2017
Genetic alterations that can be modulated by stress have been identified in children at high risk for bipolar disorder, according to a recently published study by researchers at McGovern Medical School at The University of ...

Changes in brain connectivity protect against developing bipolar disorder

January 5, 2016
Naturally occurring changes in brain wiring can help patients at high genetic risk of developing bipolar disorder avert the onset of the illness, according to a new study led by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine ...

Brain study identifies bipolar marker

March 10, 2017
People with the highest risk of developing bipolar disorder exhibit weak connections in the emotional areas of the brain, a world-first Australian study shows.

Kids with bipolar disorder more likely to abuse drugs, alcohol: study

September 16, 2016
(HealthDay)—For some teens with bipolar disorder, the risk that they will abuse alcohol and drugs may increase as they get older, a new study suggests.

Maternal stress during pregnancy could influence the biological clock for ageing

April 11, 2017
The stress that some mothers experience during their pregnancies could influence the genetic makeup their babies are born with and, eventually, lead to premature biological ageing and associated age-related diseases. This ...

Recommended for you

Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

October 19, 2017
Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people, even in developed countries where hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists ...

Inflamed support cells appear to contribute to some kinds of autism

October 18, 2017
Modeling the interplay between neurons and astrocytes derived from children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Brazil, say innate ...

Study suggests psychedelic drugs could reduce criminal behavior

October 18, 2017
Classic psychedelics such as psilocybin (often called magic mushrooms), LSD and mescaline (found in peyote) are associated with a decreased likelihood of antisocial criminal behavior, according to new research from investigators ...

Taking probiotics may reduce postnatal depression

October 18, 2017
Researchers from the University of Auckland and Otago have found evidence that a probiotic given in pregnancy can help prevent or treat symptoms of postnatal depression and anxiety.

Schizophrenia disrupts the brain's entire communication system, researchers say

October 17, 2017
Some 40 years since CT scans first revealed abnormalities in the brains of schizophrenia patients, international scientists say the disorder is a systemic disruption to the brain's entire communication system.

Before assigning responsibility, our minds simulate alternative outcomes, study shows

October 17, 2017
How do people assign a cause to events they witness? Some philosophers have suggested that people determine responsibility for a particular outcome by imagining what would have happened if a suspected cause had not intervened.

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.