• adolescents;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • children;
  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy;
  • N-acetylaspartate;
  • offspring;
  • prodromal

Objectives:  Studies have reported decreased N-acetylaspartate (NAA) in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) of adults and children with bipolar disorder (BD), suggesting decreased neuronal density in this area. However, it is unclear if this finding represents neurodegeneration after or a trait marker present before BD onset. To address this question, we used proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) to compare DLPFC levels of NAA among bipolar offspring with early-onset BD, bipolar offspring with subsyndromal symptoms of BD and healthy children.

Methods:  Participants were 9–18 years old, and included 60 offspring of parents with bipolar I or II disorder (32 with BD and 28 with subsyndromal symptoms of BD), and 26 healthy controls. 1H-MRS at 3 T was used to study 8-cm3 voxels placed in left and right DLPFC.

Results:  There were no significant group differences in mean right or left DLPFC NAA/Cr ratios. Exploratory analyses of additional metabolites (myoinositol, choline) also yielded no significant group differences. NAA/Cr ratios were not correlated with age, duration of illness, or exposure to lithium or valproate.

Conclusions:  Our findings suggest that DLPFC NAA/Cr ratios cannot be used as a trait marker for BD. Although we did not find decreased DLPFC NAA/Cr ratios in children and adolescents with BD, it is still possible that such levels begin to decrease after longer durations of illness into adulthood. Longitudinal neuroimaging studies of patients with BD accounting for developmental and treatment factors are needed to further clarify the neurodegenerative aspects of BD.