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Bipolar Risk-Taking Linked to Ancient Brain Structure

Update Date: Jul 09, 2014 12:15 AM EDT

People with bipolar disorders take greater risks because parts of their brains dedicated to pursuing and enjoying rewarding experienced are more active than their normal counterparts.

After using brain imaging, researchers from the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool were able to identify specific neural pathways responsible for the symptoms of the disorder.

In the latest study, researchers asked participants to play "Roulette" like games in which they made safe or risky gambles. Researchers measured participants' brain activity during the experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The study revealed that the nucleus accumbens, the brain's "pleasure center" that motivates humans to seek out and pursue rewards, were more strongly activated in those with bipolar disorder compared to people in the healthy control group.

"The greater buzz that people with bipolar disorder get from reward is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it helps people strive towards their goals and ambitions, which may contribute to the success enjoyed by many people with this diagnosis. However, it comes at a cost: these same people may be swayed more by immediate rewards when making decisions and less by the long-term consequences of these actions," researcher Professor Wael El-Deredy said in a news release.

"This study shows how we can use the new tools of neuroscience to better understand the psychological mechanisms that lead to a psychiatric disorder which, until now, has been very difficult to understand," added Professor Richard Bentall.

"Understanding how the brain works to regulate the pursuit of goals will help us to design, evaluate and monitor better therapies for bipolar disorder," Dr. Liam Mason, who now works at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, said in a statement.

The findings were published in the journal BRAIN.

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