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Keywords:

  • autonomic nervous system;
  • bipolar disorder;
  • functional MRI;
  • genetics;
  • working memory

Thermenos HW, Makris N, Whitfield-Gabrieli S, Brown AB, Giuliano AJ, Lee EH, Faraone SV, Tsuang MT, Seidman LJ. A functional MRI study of working memory in adolescents and young adults at genetic risk for bipolar disorder: preliminary findings. Bipolar Disord 2011: 13: 272–286. © 2011 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2011 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

Objectives:  In this report, we seek to (i) identify a potential neuroimaging endophenotype for bipolar disorder (BD) in emotion regulatory and autonomic circuitry in young first-degree relatives of persons with BD; and (ii) replicate our previous work identifying the functional neuroanatomy of working memory (WM) in an older sample of relatives of persons with BD.

Methods:  Ten adolescent and young adult (age 13–24) unmedicated, non-ill, first-degree relatives of persons with BD (RELS) and 10 demographically comparable healthy controls performed a 2-back WM task and a 0-back control task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). fMRI data were collected on a 1.5 Tesla scanner and analyzed using SPM-2. Mood was assessed on the day of scanning.

Results:  The groups did not differ on any demographic, neuropsychological, or in-scanner task performance variables. In contrast to controls, RELS showed (i) weak task-dependent modulation activity in the cerebellar vermis (CV), insula, and amygdala/parahippocampal region, and (ii) exaggerated modulation of activity in the frontopolar cortex and brainstem, even after controlling for potential confounders. Many of the group differences were driven by differences in activity in the low-level (0-back) baseline task.

Conclusions:  Young, unmedicated RELS exhibited altered task-dependent modulation of frontopolar, CV, and insula activity during WM, especially during the low-level (0-back) baseline task. Results are largely consistent with our initial study of older adult RELS, suggesting these alterations may represent biomarkers of genetic risk for BD.