The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to measure a part of the brain that regulates emotions, the ventral prefrontal cortex, that lies above the eyes. The changes in persons with bipolar disorder were not prominent until young adulthood, suggesting that the illness progresses during the teenage years. Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive illness.
"The brain changes were diminished in persons with bipolar disorder who were taking mood-stabilizing medications," said Hilary Blumberg, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and director of Yale's Mood Disorders Research Program. "This brings hope that it may someday be possible to halt the progression of the disorder."
Blumberg added, "Research to understand bipolar disorder in youths is especially important because of their high risk for suicide."
Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes that range from emotional highs, or manias, to emotional lows, or depressions. Extreme manic highs can be associated with over-spending, impulsiveness on the job or at school, and risky behaviors, including sexual indiscretions that can lead to loss of important relationships. Blumberg said in depressive episodes individuals may "take to bed" or, in severe cases, try to take their own lives.
The research was conducted at Yale in collaboration with co-authors John Krystal, M.D., Ravi Bansal, Andrés Martin, M.D., James Dziura, Kathleen Durkin, Laura Martin, Elizabeth Gerard, M.D., Dennis Charney, M.D., and Bradley Peterson, M.D.
Biological Psychiatry: Published online January 20, 2006