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Keywords:

  • bipolar disorder;
  • brain;
  • diffusion tensor imaging;
  • impulsivity;
  • MRI;
  • suicide

Mahon K, Burdick KE, Wu J, Ardekani BA, Szeszko PR. Relationship between suicidality and impulsivity in bipolar I disorder: a diffusion tensor imaging study. Bipolar Disord 2012: 14: 80–89. © 2012 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

Background:  Impulsivity is characteristic of individuals with bipolar disorder and may be a contributing factor to the high rate of suicide in patients with this disorder. Although white matter abnormalities have been implicated in the pathophysiology of bipolar disorder, their relationship to impulsivity and suicidality in this disorder has not been well-investigated.

Methods:  Diffusion tensor imaging scans were acquired in 14 bipolar disorder patients with a prior suicide attempt, 15 bipolar disorder patients with no prior suicide attempt, and 15 healthy volunteers. Bipolar disorder patients received clinical assessments including measures of impulsivity, depression, mania, and anxiety. Images were processed using the Tract-Based Spatial Statistics method in the FSL software package.

Results:  Bipolar disorder patients with a prior suicide attempt had lower fractional anisotropy (FA) within the left orbital frontal white matter (p < 0.05, corrected) and higher overall impulsivity compared to patients without a previous suicide attempt. Among patients with a prior suicide attempt, FA in the orbital frontal white matter region correlated inversely with motor impulsivity.

Conclusions:  Abnormal orbital frontal white matter may play a role in impulsive and suicidal behavior among patients with bipolar disorder.