Objective: Neurobiological understanding of bipolar disorder (BD) is limited by a paucity of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research examining correlates of psychological processes. To begin to address these limitations, the current study tests the hypothesis that pediatric BD (PBD) subjects exhibit altered neural activation during encoding of emotional faces compared to typically developing controls.
Methods: Pediatric BD subjects (n = 23; mean age = 14.2 ± 3.1 years) and controls (n = 22; mean age = 14.7 ± 2.3 years) were matched on age, gender, and IQ. In this event-related fMRI study, subjects were scanned while viewing emotional faces and given a surprise recognition memory test 30 min postscan. Our main outcome measure was between-group differences in neural activation during successful versus unsuccessful face encoding.
Results: Pediatric BD youth exhibited reduced memory for emotional faces, relative to healthy comparisons, particularly on fearful faces. Event-related fMRI analyses controlling for this behavioral difference showed that PBD subjects, compared to controls, had increased neural activation in the striatum and anterior cingulate cortex when successfully encoding happy faces and in the orbitofrontal cortex when successfully encoding angry faces. There were no between-group differences in neural activation during fearful face encoding.
Conclusions: Our results extend what is known about memory and face emotion processing impairments in PBD subjects by showing increased fronto-striatal activation during encoding of emotional faces. Further work is required to determine the impact of mood state, medication, and comorbid illnesses on these findings.