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Changing Brain Connectivity May Prevent The Development Of Bipolar Disorder

Update Date: Jan 08, 2016 09:06 AM EST

By changing the wiring in the brain, it is possible to prevent bipolar disorder in patients, according to scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Bipolar disorder is an issue in the brain that leads to mood and energy fluctuations, activity levels and the ability to carry out everyday tasks. It is also "highly heritable", according to researchers.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance  states that bipolar disorder affects close to 5.5 Americans who are above 18 years, or 2.6 percent of adults.

Scientists employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in order to map connectivity patterns in brains of individuals who showed symptoms of bipolar disorder. They also examined their siblings without the illness and finally "unrelated healthy individuals".

"The ability of the siblings to rewire their brain networks means they have adaptive neuroplasticity that may help them avoid the disease even though they still carry the genetic scar of bipolar disorder when they process emotional information," said lead study author Sophia Frangou, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in a news release.

Siblings who did not exhibit the disorder were the resilient ones that exhibited similar abnormalities in connectivity of brain networks related to emotional processing. They also showed more changes in neuroplasticity to prevent the development of the disorder.

"A family history remains the greatest risk factor for developing bipolar disorder and while we often focus on risk, we may forget that the majority of those who fall into this category remain well," added Frangou.

"Looking for biological mechanisms that can protect against illness opens up a completely new direction for developing new treatments. Our research should give people hope that even though mental illness runs in families, it is possible to beat the odds at the genetic lottery."

The study was published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.

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