Researchers find Brain Activity Differences In Childrena and Adults with Bipolar Disorder

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amygdalaThe search for the biologic cause and neural mechanisms beneath bipolar disorder has been going strong for years, but there has been surprisingly little research on whether these mechanisms are the same in youth with the disorder compared to adults with the disorder.

Now, research from the PediMind Program at Bradley Hospital at Brown University has found that children diagnosed with bipolar disorder show far more activation in the region of the brain associated with emotional reaction than bipolar adults when viewing emotional faces.

The findings published in JAMA Psychiatry suggest that there are different neural mechanisms at play between adults and youth with bipolar disorder and that children with the disorder may benefit from treatments that target emotional face identification, such as computer-based “brain games” or group and individual therapy.

The study is the first meta-analysis comparing the brain activity of youth and adults with bipolar disorder, and the analysis included data from over 100 studies that used fMRI to measure changes in the brain in response to various forms of stimuli.

While the findings especially highlight increased amygdala activity in children with bipolar disorder, the researchers also found greater activity in the inferior front gyrus and the precuneus areas of youth brains. Notably, non-emotional stimuli showed a lack of brain activity in youth when compared to adults.

“Despite our best current treatments, bipolar disorder exacts a considerable toll on youth, including problems with friends, parents, and at school, and high rates of psychiatric hospitalization and suicide attempts,” said Daniel Dickstein, M.D., senior author and an associate professor of psychiatry and of pediatrics at Brown. “More research into targeted treatments is needed now that we know children’s brains are impacted in specific, identifiable ways by bipolar disorder. Locating the underlying brain change in bipolar youth could lead us to new, brain-based ways to improve how we diagnose and treat this disorder.”

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