Brain Connectivity Changes May Prevent The Development Of Bipolar Disorder

First Posted: Jan 05, 2016 06:47 PM EST

Researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that changes in brain wiring may help avert the onset of developing bipolar disorder in some patients.

As bipolar disorder--a brain disorder that results in mood and energy fluctuations, as well as activity levels and even the ability to carry out everyday tasks--is highly heritable, researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map connectivity patterns in the brains of participants with bipolar disorder, their siblings who do not have the illness and unrelated healthy individuals.

Researchers found that siblings who did not show signs of the disorder (otherwise known as resilient siblings) show similar abnormalities in the connectivity of brain networks linked to emotional processing, as well as additional changes in neuroplasticity that may help prevent the development of the disorder. 

"The ability of the siblings to rewire their brain networks means they have adaptive neuroplasticity that may help them avoid the disease even though they still carry the genetic scar of bipolar disorder when they process emotional information," said lead study author Sophia Frangou, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in a news release.

A family history remains the greatest risk factor for developing bipolar disorder and while we often focus on risk, we may forget that the majority of those who fall into this category remain well," added Frangou. "Looking for biological mechanisms that can protect against illness opens up a completely new direction for developing new treatments. Our research should give people hope that even though mental illness runs in families, it is possible to beat the odds at the genetic lottery."

Statistics from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance show that bipolar disorder affects close to 5.5 Americans 18 and older or 2.6 percent of the adult population.

The study is published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

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