Brain Activity in Children with Bipolar May Suggest Treatments

bipolarAccording to new research, children who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder have greater activation in the right amygdala—a brain region that is very important for emotional reaction—when viewing emotional faces, compared with adults with bipolar disorder.[1] The finding suggests that children with bipolar disorder may benefit from treatments that target emotional face identification, such as computer-based “brain games” or group or individual therapy.1

This study is the first meta-analysis to directly compare brain changes in children with bipolar disorder to adults with bipolar disorder, using data from 100 functional MRI (fMRI) brain imaging studies with a pool of thousands of participants.1

“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 bipolar disorder started in childhood rather than adulthood,” said Ezra Wegbreit, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow. “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.”1

While fMRI studies have begun to investigate the neural mechanisms underlying bipolar disorder, few have actually directly compared the differences in youths with bipolar disorder and adults with bipolar disorder.1 Therefore, to address this gap, the research team conducted large scale meta-analyses that directly compared the fMRI findings in youths with bipolar disorder and adults with bipolar disorder.1

An analysis of emotional face recognition fMRI studies showed significantly greater amygdala activity among youths with bipolar disorder than adults with bipolar disorder.1

“Our meta-analysis has located different regions of the brain that are either hyperactive 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.”1

“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. 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. 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.”1

Ongoing studies are attempting to determine if computer-based “brain games” or group or individual therapy might improve these brain changes in a more targeted way.1

[1] Nauert, R. (2014). Brain Activity of Bipolar Kids May Suggest Treatment Approaches. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 26, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/06/20/brain-activity-of-bipolar-kids-may-suggest-treatment-approaches/71476.html

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