Brain Abnormalities Found in Children with Bipolar in Manic Stage

Bipolar can impair quality of life for those who live with it. Periods of mania and depression can cause someone to be very erratic and can lead to extreme behaviors that put strain on relationships. Family members, co-workers and friends often feel the negative consequences of bipolar as a result. For children with bipolar, the illness can be debilitating. Often, children are unable to vocalize their concerns about their mood swings. Many are unsure of what is happening to them and become afraid. These fears, combined with the uncertainty they experience, lead a high number of bipolar children to initiate substance use or attempt suicide. In order to diagnose pediatric bipolar (PBD), reports are gathered from family members, teachers, and the children themselves. Because of their inability to recognize their own emotional states, many of these children’s reports could be inaccurate. Therefore, other diagnostic methods must be considered.

Qian Xiao of the Key Laboratory of Psychiatry and Mental Health of Hunan Province at Central South University in China recently led a study comparing MRIs of 15 children with PBD to those of 15 children without. The PBD participants were in manic states at the time, but rather than measure neurological activity during a clinical task, Xiao chose to measure brain activity during a resting state. Also, the goal of choosing to study children rather than adults lowered the risk of neurological findings altered by substance use, long-term medication use, or chronic mood swings.

The results showed that there were several differences in the brain activity of the PBD and non-PBD participants. Specifically, Xiao found variations in the dorsal cognitive and ventral-affective circuits of the children with PBD. These regions of the brain affect attention processing, working memory, inhibitory, and response control. Xiao believes that this study, which is the first of its kind to illuminate these differences in the PBD brain, is the first step in more accurate and earlier diagnoses. Xiao added, “Combined with more large-sample experiments and clinical indicator in the future, this method may help in assistant diagnosis for PBD.”

Xiao, Q., Zhong, Y., Lu, D., Gao, W., Jiao, Q., et al. (2013). Altered regional homogeneity in pediatric bipolar disorder during manic state: A resting-state fMRI study. PLoS ONE 8(3): e57978. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057978

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  • Barbara


    April 19th, 2013 at 11:47 PM

    DO these changes make themselves apparent once the disorder sets on or can this also be identified before it does?If it is the latter it may well lead to a good indication as to whether a child is vulnerable to PBD.And that in turn can help provide quick attention and the necessary care to the child.

  • flo


    April 20th, 2013 at 5:30 AM

    but much better to determine this when the child is young than to leave undiagnosed until adulthood

  • melvin


    April 20th, 2013 at 11:25 PM

    surprising that even during resting states there is an apparent difference in brain activity..while this can be a good indicator I’m not sure how this will play out for those children who do not have PBD yet but will go on to develop it..the study was conducted on children who already had PBD so I’m not sure how this actual helps in early diagnosis.

  • Jake F

    Jake F

    April 22nd, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    How come the title suggests that there are “abnormalities” but the body of the article only suggests “differences”?
    These two words have totally different meanings as well as implications.

  • PT


    April 22nd, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Just brain activity without a task or real experiment…Interesting but not too convincing…They could have also investigated into whether or not these differences showed any decline once the children got medication.Also interesting to note would be to list out for how long these kids have shown the symptoms and understand its various saves

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