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Changes in brain structure and function in patients with BD may not progress over time

14 April 2009

New research from the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London,  has shown that  changes in brain structure and function of people with Bipolar Disorder (BD) over time are similar to those without the disorder. The research leader was Dr Sophia Frangou.

BD is a serious mental illness which affects around 300000 people in the UK alone. Its hallmarks are episodes of mania, characterised by elevated or irritable mood, and episodes of depression. In the majority of patients BD runs a chronic course which leads to significant psychosocial disability. A large body of evidence suggests that both the function and the structure of the brain are altered in BD in such a way that it impairs emotional and thinking processes. There has been much debate as to whether these difficulties become more pronounced with increasing age and illness chronicity.

This debate has moved an important step forward following the publication of a new study in 'Bipolar Disorders' by Dr. Frangou and her colleagues at the Section of Neurobiology of Psychosis, Institute of Psychiatry. They acquired brain structural imaging scans from 71 patients with BD and compared them to 82 healthy individuals. They also asked all participants to perform a number of tests for general intellectual ability, memory and executive function. Although brain structure and function changed over time, these changes were similar in both BD patients and in healthy participants.

'This is good news for patients with BD because it offers them a more positive view of their future' said Dr. Frangou. 'Our findings also underscore the need to elucidate further the mechanisms that underlie neuroplasticity in BD, meaning the apparent ability of the brain to compensate for disease, and the possible contribution of the proposed neuroprotective effects of many medicines used in the treatment of BD'.

Sarnicola A, Kempton M, Germanà C, Haldane M, Hadjulis M, Christodoulou T, Koukopoulos A, Girardi P, Tatarelli R, Frangou S. No differential effect of age on brain matter volume and cognition in bipolar patients and healthy individuals. Bipolar Disorders 2009.



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