Teens with bipolar disorder have weak connections in the brain

Researchers from UNSW Sydney, the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), the University of Newcastle and international organizations have shown evidence of these networks decreasing over time in young people at risk. high genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder – this has important implications for future intervention strategies.

Researchers used diffusion-weighted magnetic imaging (dMRI) technology to scan the brains of 183 people over a two-year period. They examined progressive changes in brain scans of people with a high genetic risk of developing the condition over a two-year period, before comparing them to a control group without risk.

People who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder are considered to be at high genetic risk and are 10 times more likely to develop the condition than those who are not closely related. family. In brain imaging scans of 97 people at high genetic risk for bipolar disorder, researchers noted a decrease in connectivity between brain regions devoted to emotional and cognitive processing over the course of two years. between scans.

But in a control group of 86 people with no family history of mental illness, they observed the opposite: enhanced neural connections between these regions, as adolescents’ brains matured to should become more proficient in the cognitive and emotional intelligence required in adulthood.

Professor of Scientology Philip Mitchell AM, a practicing psychiatrist with UNSW Medicine & Health, said the findings raise new ideas for treatment and intervention in bipolar disorder that are developing in Young people are at a higher risk of developing the disease.

“Our study really helps us understand the pathway for people at risk for bipolar,” he said.

“We now have a much clearer idea of ​​what’s going on in the brains of young people as they grow up.”

Professor Mitchell says that as a clinician and researcher, he has seen first-hand how young people can suddenly turn their lives upside down when they go through a phase of life. first manic episode.

“We see a lot of smart, capable kids who really enjoy life and then bipolar disorder can be a huge obstacle to what they want to achieve.

“With our new knowledge of what really happens in the brain as at-risk adolescents reach adulthood, we have the opportunity to develop new intervention strategies to prevent the condition.” or reduce the impact of the disease.”

Mental image

Professor Michael Breakspear, who led the team at HMRI and the University of Newcastle that carried out the analysis of the dMRI scans, said the study illustrates how advances in technology can bring about transformative improvements. life for the treatment of mental illness. .

“Families of people with bipolar disorder – especially siblings and children – often ask about their future risk and this is a highly personal question,” he said.

“It’s also a problem for their doctors, because the presence of bipolar disorder has important implications for drug therapy.

“This study is an important step in the genetic and imaging tests we can perform to help identify people who are likely to develop bipolar disorder, before they develop symptoms of infertility.” This will bring psychiatry closer to other branches of medicine where screening tests are part of standard care.”

The researchers stress that more research is needed before making changes to current treatment modalities. All people with a genetic risk of developing bipolar disorder should have a brain CT scan to see if the brain shows signs of impaired connectivity.

“The key finding in our study is that there are progressive changes in the brains of young people at risk of bipolar, which suggests important intervention strategies such as how”.

“If we can get involved early, whether it’s psychological resilience training, or maybe medication, then we can halt this progression to major brain changes. “

Dr Gloria Roberts, a postdoctoral researcher who has worked mainly on the project since 2008 with UNSW Medicine & Health, has noticed new onset of mental illness in young people at risk of developing bipolar disorder. How extremes can significantly affect psychosocial functioning and quality of life.

“By improving our understanding of the neurobiology of risk and resilience in these high-risk individuals, we have the opportunity to intervene and improve quality of life in these high-risk populations.” most at risk.”

As a result of the new findings, the researchers are planning to perform a third follow-up scan of the study participants. They are also in the early stages of developing online programs that support resilience development while providing young people with anxiety and depression management skills, skills they hope will reduce the risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Life experience

Retired mother of two Patricia* knows firsthand how bipolar disorder can be passed down the generations, has a late husband living with the condition and one of her two children also. develop this disease.

“My husband had it, and he believes his father and his grandfather had it,” says Patricia.

“It’s in my family too. My husband and I are both keen to contribute to learn more about it. We both firmly believe that the answer lies in neuroscience.”

So when she learned of a study that looked to scan the brains of people with and without risk for bipolar disorder, she thought it was a great opportunity to contribute. Her daughter was diagnosed in her late teens, but her brother is unaffected – both are now in their 30s.

Patricia said of bipolar disorder research: “I would love for them to figure out how to get rid of it.

“It causes a lot of conflict for people who have it and it’s very difficult for loved ones. I know that there are some people who have some manic episodes where they feel pretty okay. But that’s not the case. everyone. Many of them feel irritable when they are manic. And many have a mixture of depression and mania, so this is not a good illness.”

She said her children could help researchers figure out what might protect at-risk people from going on to develop the disease.

“So you know, if they can learn more and even think of some way of controlling it, we’d be happy to help.”

Source: Eurekalert

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