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A step closer to early identification in bipolar disorder

23 July 2009

Research published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, together with colleagues at the Melbourne Neuropsychiatry Centre, University of Melbourne, Australia, has discovered an important clue regarding the development of bipolar disorder which could facilitate early identification.

The study group examined a brain structure called the corpus callosum.  The corpus callosum is a thick bundle of nerve fibres connecting the right and left parts of the brain and co-ordinating their activity.  Patients with bipolar disorder have difficulties regulating their mood and often experience periods of depression or elation and irritability. Callosal thinning may reduce co-ordination between right and left brain and may contribute to mood dysregulation in patients.

Researchers found that the corpus callosum was significantly thinner in patients with bipolar disorder but normal in their healthy first degree relatives.  Although family members of patients with bipolar disorder share many of the risk genes for this disorder, the changes in the corpus callosum seem to only occur in those who go on to develop the disease.

The lead author Dr. Mark Walterfang from University of Melbourne said: 'We are very excited about these findings as they validate our previous reports of callosal thinning in bipolar disorder patients'. Dr. Frangou who led the IOP team, added: 'Our results confirm the presence of non-genetic traits which bring us a step closer to identifying factors leading to people becoming unwell with bipolar disorder and offers hope for early identification'.

The Institute of Psychiatry team are Dr Sophia Frangou, Matthew J. Kempton and Morgan Haldane.

The full article is published in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry:



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