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There Is a Difference In The Way Bipolar Disorder Affects Brains Of Children And Adults: Study

Update Date: Jun 19, 2014 11:04 AM EDT

A new study has found that bipolar children have greater activation in the right amygdala (an important brain region for emotional reaction) than bipolar adults when viewing emotional faces. According to the study, the bipolar children might benefit from treatments that target emotional face identification like computer based "brain games." 

This study is the first ever meta-analysis to directly compare brain changes in bipolar children to bipolar adults, using data from 100 functional MRI (fMRI) brain imaging studies with a pool of thousands of participants, the press release added. 

"Bipolar disorder is among the most debilitating psychiatric illnesses affecting adults worldwide, with an estimated prevalence of one to four percent of the adult population, but more than 40 percent of adults report their bipolar disorder started in childhood rather than adulthood," said Ezra Wegbreit, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow at Bradley Hospital, who led the study, in the press release. "Despite this, very few studies have examined whether brain or behavioral changes exist that are specific to children with bipolar disorder versus adults with bipolar disorder."

The study involved large scale meta-analyses, comparing fMRI findings in bipolar youths versus bipolar adults, both being relative to no-bipolar participants. 

"Our meta-analysis has located different regions of the brain that are either hyper active or under active in children with bipolar disorder," said Wegbreit. "These point us to the targeted areas of the brain that relate to emotional dysfunction and cognitive deficits for children with bipolar disorder."

"Despite our best current treatments, bipolar disorder exacts a considerable toll on youths, including problems with friends, parents and at school, and high rates of psychiatric hospitalization and suicide attempts," added senior author Daniel Dickstein, M.D., director of the PediMIND Program at Bradley Hospital. "More research into targeted treatments is needed now that we know children's brains are impacted in specific, identifiable ways by bipolar disorder."

The study has been published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. 

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