Mood lability among offspring of parents with bipolar disorder and community controls


Corresponding author:

Boris Birmaher, M.D.

Department of Psychiatry

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic

3811 O'Hara Street

Bellefield Towers, Room 612

Pittsburgh, PA 15213


Fax: 412-246-5230




Early identification of bipolar disorder (BP) symptomatology is crucial for improving the prognosis of this illness. Increased mood lability has been reported in BP. However, mood lability is ubiquitous across psychiatric disorders and may be a marker of severe psychopathology and not specific to BP. To clarify this issue, this study examined the prevalence of mood lability and its components in offspring of BP parents and offspring of community control parents recruited through the Pittsburgh Bipolar Offspring Study.


Forty-one school-age BP offspring of 38 BP parents, 257 healthy or non-BP offspring of 174 BP parents, and 192 offspring of 117 control parents completed a scale that was developed to evaluate mood lability in youth, i.e., the Children's Affective Lability Scale (CALS).


A factor analysis of the parental CALS, and in part the child CALS, revealed Irritability, Mania, and Anxiety/Depression factors, with most of the variance explained by the Irritability factor. After adjusting for confounding factors (e.g., parental and offspring non-BP psychopathology), BP offspring of BP parents showed the highest parental and child total and factor scores, followed by the non-BP offspring of BP parents, and then the offspring of the controls.


Mood lability overall and mania-like, anxious/depressed, and particularly irritability symptoms may be a prodromal phenotype of BP among offspring of parents with BP. Prospective studies are warranted to clarify whether these symptoms will predict the development of BP and/or other psychopathology. If confirmed, these symptoms may become a target of treatment and biological studies before BP develops.