Trait impulsivity as an endophenotype for bipolar I disorder


Corresponding author:
David C. Glahn Ph.D.
Olin Neuropsychiatry Research Center
Institute of Living
Whitehall Research Building, 200 Retreat Avenue
CT 06106
Fax: 860-545-7797


Lombardo LE, Bearden CE, Barrett J, Brumbaugh MS, Pittman B, Frangou S, Glahn DC. Trait impulsivity as an endophenotype for bipolar I disorder. Bipolar Disord 2012: 14: 565–570. © 2012 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2012 John Wiley & Sons A/S.

Objective:  Impulsivity, conceptualized as impairment in planning and poor attentional and inhibitory control, is a key feature of bipolar disorder. Familial risk for bipolar disorder is known to affect inhibitory control but its impact on the attentional and planning dimensions of impulsivity is still unclear.

Methods:  We administered the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, version 11 (BIS-11) to 54 euthymic individuals with DSM–IV bipolar I disorder, 57 of their clinically unaffected siblings, and 49 healthy comparison subjects. Groups were compared on the attentional (rapid shifts in attention/impatience with complexity), motor (acting impetuously), and non-planning (absence of weighing upon long-term consequences of actions) subscales of the BIS-11, and on total BIS-11 score. To investigate functional implications of trait impulsivity, total BIS-11 score was examined in relation to current psychosocial functioning and criminal history.

Results:  Individuals with bipolar I disorder had elevated scores compared to healthy comparison subjects on BIS-11 total score and all three subscales (p < 0.0001). Unaffected siblings had elevated BIS-11 total score (p = 0.0037), motor (p = 0.0027), and non-planning (p = 0.0379) subscales in comparison to unrelated healthy controls. Total BIS-11 score was negatively associated with global assessment of functioning (GAF) score (β = −0.32, p < 0.0001).

Conclusions:  Our results suggest that impulsivity is sensitive to familial liability for the illness, making it a potential endophenotype for bipolar disorder.