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Bipolar Disorder and Adolescent Brains

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Bipolar Disorder and Adolescent Brains

Circuits that regulate emotions develop differently

In adolescents with bipolar disorder, areas of the brain that regulate emotions develop differently, according to a new study from Yale School of Medicine.

For the study, differences were seen in the prefrontal cortex and insula in MRI scans—repeated over a two-year period—of 37 adolescents with bipolar disorder when compared to the scans of 35 adolescents without the disorder.

In brain areas that regulate emotions, adolescents with bipolar disorder lost larger volumes of gray matter and showed no increase in white matter connections, both hallmarks of normal adolescent brain development. Though adolescents tend to lose gray matter in normal development, the study showed those with bipolar disorder lost more. The also added fewer white matter connections that typically characterize development well into adulthood.

“In adolescence, the brain is very plastic, so the hope is that one day we can develop interventions to prevent the development of bipolar disorder,” said senior author Hilary Blumberg, professor of psychiatry, diagnostic radiology, in the Yale Child Study Center.

The changes seen in the study suggest the brain circuits that regulate emotions develop differently in adolescents with bipolar disorder than in their counterparts without the disorder.

Bipolar disorder, which often first appears in adolescence, is marked by severe shifts in mood, energy and activity levels. People with the disorder can have trouble managing impulses and have an increased risk of suicide and substance abuse.

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BHM Edit Staff