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Review of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies comparing bipolar disorder and schizophrenia


Corresponding author:
Dr Heather C Whalley
Division of Psychiatry
University of Edinburgh
Kennedy Tower
Royal Edinburgh Hospital
Morningside Park
Edinburgh, EH10 5HFUK
Fax: +44 (0)131-537-6531


Whalley HC, Papmeyer M, Sprooten E, Lawrie SM, Sussmann JE, McIntosh AM. Review of functional magnetic resonance imaging studies comparing bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Bipolar Disord 2012: 14: 411–431. © 2012 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

Objective:  Although bipolar disorder (BD) and schizophrenia (SCZ) have a number of clinical features and certain susceptibility genes in common, they are considered separate disorders, and it is unclear which aspects of pathophysiology are specific to each condition. Here, we examine the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) literature to determine the evidence for diagnosis-specific patterns of brain activation in the two patient groups.

Method:  A systematic search was performed to identify fMRI studies directly comparing BD and SCZ to examine evidence for diagnosis-specific activation patterns. Studies were categorized into (i) those investigating emotion, reward, or memory, (ii) those describing executive function or language tasks, and (iii) those looking at the resting state or default mode networks. Studies reporting estimates of sensitivity and specificity of classification are also summarized, followed by studies reporting associations with symptom severity measures.

Results:  In total, 21 studies were identified including patients (n = 729) and healthy subjects (n = 465). Relative over-activation in the medial temporal lobe and associated structures was found in BD versus SCZ in tasks involving emotion or memory. Evidence of differences between the disorders in prefrontal regions was less consistent. Accuracy values for assignment of diagnosis were generally lower in BD than in SCZ. Few studies reported significant symptom associations; however, these generally implicated limbic regions in association with manic symptoms.

Conclusions:  Although there are a limited number of studies and a cautious approach is warranted, activation differences were found in the medial temporal lobe and associated limbic regions, suggesting the presence of differences in the neurobiological substrates of SCZ and BD. Future studies examining symptom dimensions, risk-associated genes, and the effects of medication will aid clarification of the mechanisms behind these differences.