Bipolar disorder is a particularly challenging mental disorder because finding the right strategy takes some trial and error. Meanwhile, the patient and their family may find it difficult to perform daily activities. The findings of a new study may help identify patients that are at an increased risk for developing bipolar disorder to get them early treatment.
Investigators from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have completed a study which provides new information about the genetic causes linked to bipolar. The researchers used a combination of cognitive testing, brain imaging and a number of temperament and behavior tests to identify 50 brain and behavioral traits that have a link to bipolar disorder and are also heavily influenced by genetics.
Senior author for the study Carrie Bearden, Ph.D. says there are likely many genes that play a role in the development of bipolar. Bearden is an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.
Bipolar disorder is characterized by the wide variations in mood, with a depressive state identified by low mood, hopelessness, loneliness and a lack of motivation, and a manic state characterized by motivation, creativity and energy. Various types of bipolar disorder are categorized by the severity and length of the changes in mood.
Bearden says that bipolar disorder is a very complex condition. The researchers used an innovative approach of looking at brain and behavioral measures that are tied to the biology of bipolar disorder, rather than looking only at clinical symptoms, in order to get a better idea of its potential genetic roots.
The researchers examined a total of 738 adults, of which 181 had a diagnosis of severe bipolar disorder. The researchers used high-resolution 3-D imaging to examine patients’ brains. They also administered questionnaires that assessed personality traits and temperaments to the patients diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and also their non-bipolar relatives.
In addition, the researchers provided the participants with a wide variety of cognitive assessments that measured attention, long-term memory, inhibitory control and other neurocognitive abilities.
Among the 50 measures that strongly suggested a genetic tie to bipolar disorder, one important finding connected the thickness of gray matter in the temporal and prefrontal lobes of the brain, which appeared to be useful for genetic mapping.
Bearden explains that the findings represent a first step in identifying the causes of bipolar disorder. However, the research is the most extensive set of traits associated with bipolar disorder that have ever been examined in this way. The data will likely act as a springboard for future research on this topic.
The research team plans to use the data gathered in this study to further their research by attempting to identify the specific genes that increase the risk for bipolar disorder. The researchers will also extend their findings to include the children and teens in the families they examined, given their belief that the symptoms found in bipolar adults may have developed during adolescence.
The findings may lead to more research that eventually makes it possible to identify individuals that are most at risk for developing bipolar disorder. This would allow for there to be prevention strategies in cases where symptoms have not yet developed, and early intervention efforts in situations where initial symptoms have been reported.