Objective: Despite effective pharmacological treatments for bipolar disorder, we still lack a comprehensive pathophysiological model of the illness. Recent neurobiological research has implicated a number of key brain regions and neuronal components in the behavioural and cognitive manifestations of bipolar disorder. Dopamine has previously been investigated in some depth in bipolar disorder, but of late has not been a primary focus of attention. This article examines the role of dopamine in bipolar disorder, incorporating recent advances into established models where possible.
Methods: A critical evaluation of the literature was undertaken, including a review of behavioural, neurochemical, receptor, and imaging studies, as well as genetic studies focusing on dopamine receptors and related metabolic pathways. In addition, pharmacologic manipulation of the central dopaminergic pathways and comparisons with other disease states such as schizophrenia were considered, principally as a means of exploring the hypothesised models.
Results: Multiple lines of evidence, including data from pharmacological interventions and structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging studies, suggest that the dopaminergic system may play a central role in bipolar disorder.
Conclusion: Future research into the pathophysiological mechanisms of bipolar disorder and the development of new treatments for bipolar disorder should focus on the dopaminergic system.