MRI Offers New Insight into Bipolar Disorder

February 10, 2015
Meghan Ross, Associate Editor

A different approach to magnetic resonance imaging has shed new light on the brains of patients with bipolar disorder and could help pave the way for better treatment options.

A different approach to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shed new light on the brains of patients with bipolar disorder and could help pave the way for better treatment options, according to a new study published in Molecular Psychiatry.

University of Iowa (UI) researchers examined 15 patients with bipolar I disorder and 25 individuals without the disorder who comprised the control group.

The researchers used quantitative mapping of T1 relaxation in the rotating frame (T1ρ) to study proton chemical exchange, which can be affected by pH and metabolite concentrations.

They noticed differences in the brains of those with bipolar disorder in both the white matter and cerebellum. Specifically, the T1ρ values were elevated in the cerebral white matter and cerebellum among the bipolar patients.

This sparked an interest among the researchers because the cerebellum has not been associated with bipolar disorder before. Even more interesting was the fact that the cerebellar differences were not found among patients who took lithium.

More research is needed to see how lithium affects the cerebellum, but senior study author John Wemmie, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UI, said in a press release that he hoped this finding would lead to more targeted treatments that could have the same effect in the cerebellum, but without lithium’s adverse side effects.

Lithium may cause weight changes, acne, restlessness, stomach pain, and hair loss, among other side effects.

Researchers have considered abnormal cell metabolism to be a factor in bipolar disorder development, but imaging tools have been lacking in terms of speed and quality. This new imaging approach gives a much better high-resolution image of the whole brain. This is also the first time that this MRI technique has been used to study a psychiatric disease, according to a UI Health Care press release.

“This study highlights the potential utility of high-resolution T1ρ mapping in psychiatric research,” the study authors concluded.