Objective: It has been hypothesized that disturbances in affect may represent distinct etiologic factors for bipolar affective disorder. The neural mechanisms mediating affective processes and their relationship to brain development and the pathophysiology of bipolar affective disorder remain to be clarified. Recent advances in neuroimaging techniques have made possible the non-invasive examination of specific brain regions during cortical challenge paradigms. This study reports findings based on fMRI data acquired during fearful and happy affect recognition paradigms in patients with bipolar affective disorder and in healthy adult subjects.
Methods: Prior to the scan, subjects were instructed to view the stimuli and to identify the type of facial expression presented. Echo planar scanning was performed on a 1.5 Tesla scanner which had been retrofitted with a whole body echo planar coil, using a head coil.
Results: The data indicate that in adult subjects with bipolar affective disorder, there is a reduction in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex activation and an increase in amygdalar activation in response to fearful facial affect. In a healthy comparison group, signal intensity changes were not found in these regions. In addition, although the patients with bipolar affective disorder completed the task demands, they demonstrated an impaired ability to correctly identify fearful facial affect but not the happy facial affect displayed.
Conclusion: These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that in some patients with bipolar affective disorder, there may be a reduction of frontal cortical function which may be associated with affective as well as attentional processing deficits.