January 28, 2016
A group of researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai recently published an online journal in Translational Psychiatry revealing their findings in a study observing bipolar disorder. The research found that naturally occurring changes within the wiring of the brain can ultimately help patients who are genetically exposed to a high risk of developing bipolar disorder, onset the illness. The findings of the study may have potentially revealed new avenues for researchers to continue to explore, from different perspectives, the ways in which the brain can itself prevent disease expression (also referred to as resilience). This gives researchers hope that further exploration might lead to the development of better treatments for the disorder.
Bipolar disorder is characterized as a manic-depressive illness. It is a disorder of the brain that leads to extreme fluctuations in the patient’s mood, activity levels, energy, as well as the ability to complete day-to-day tasks. Bipolar disorder is highly hereditary. This means that individuals with a sibling, parent or grandparent who suffer from the disease have a much higher risk of developing the disorder, as compared to those who have no family history.
This study, with the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), mapped the connectivity pattern of the brain of 3 groups of individuals: healthy individuals (unrelated), patients who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and siblings of bipolar patients who did not develop the illness (resilient patients). Each group had their brain scanned while being asked to perform a non-emotional and emotional task – each of which tapped into different aspects of the brain’s function, commonly known to be affected by bipolar disorder. The resilient siblings, as well as the bipolar patients, showed similar abnormalities in the brain’s emotional processing connectivity network. Additionally, the resilient patient’s displayed further changes in the brain's wiring within said networks.
Sophia Frangou, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine Sinai at Mount Sinai and author of the study said, “The ability of the siblings to rewire their brain networks means that they have adaptive neuroplasticity that may help them to avoid the disease even though they still carry the genetic scar of bipolar disorder when they process emotional information.” Dr. Sophia Frangou continues ongoing research using the same neuro-imaging systems to study the differences in the brain’s wiring and how it might either decrease or increase a patient’s likelihood of developing mental health issues.
Dr. Frangou’s research has been able to confirm that a family history of mental illness poses the greatest risk factor to patients. She continues to focus on the fact that the majority of pre-disposed patients remain healthy and searches for answers as to why. Dr. Frangou says in response to the study’s findings, “Looking for biological mechanisms that can protect against illness opens up a completely new direction for developing 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.”
2016, January 15. “Changes in Brain Connectivity Protect Against Developing Bipolar Disorder.” Science Daily (website). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/01/160105112100.htm. Accessed on January 26, 2016.
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