Brain scans could predict bipolar disorder risk long before onset
Young people who are likely to develop bipolar disorder could potentially be identified before the onset of the mental illness.
This is the conclusion of a new study, which observed differences in brain activity in young people with no clinical signs of the illness, but with a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder.
Black Dog Institute researcher Philip Mitchell said the finding is significant because family history is currently the only way to determine who is at risk of developing bipolar disorder, according to the Courier Mail.
Even if someone has a family history of the illness, only 10 per cent will go on to develop bipolar, he said.
The study, published this week in Biological Psychiatry, compared the brain activity of about 50 participants aged between 18 and 30 with a family history of bipolar with another 50 people not considered at risk.
Participants were shown pictures of happy, fearful or calm faces while their brains were monitored using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.
Professor Mitchell, who also heads the School of Psychiatry at the University of NSW, revealed that the scans of the young people at risk showed they had reduced brain responses to the emotive faces, particularly fearful expressions.
This indicated the brain was less responsive or able to adapt to emotional challenges, he explained.
"This is confirming that we are starting to pick up features that are different in the brains of kids with bipolar, even before the illness develops," the paper quoted Prof Mitchell as telling a foreign news agency.
Prof Mitchell noted that identifying those at risk earlier could allow treatments or interventions to be offered in future that could stop the illness developing or reduce the severity of bipolar disorder.