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Bipolar disorder: Research

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Bipolar disorders researchEdit

Heritability or inheritance of the illnessEdit

Bipolar disorder runs in families.[How to reference and link to summary or text] More than two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative with the disorder or with unipolar major depression, indicating that the disease has a genetic component. Studies seeking to identify the genetic basis of bipolar disorder indicate that susceptibility stems from multiple genes. Scientists are continuing their search for these genes using advanced genetic analytic methods and large samples of families affected by the illness. The researchers are hopeful that identification of susceptibility genes for bipolar disorder, and the brain proteins they code for, will make it possible to develop better treatments and preventive interventions targeted at the underlying illness process.

Recent genetic researchEdit

Bipolar disorder is considered to be a result of complex interactions between genes and environment. The monozygotic concordance rate for the disorder is 70%. This means that if a person has the disorder, an identical twin has a 70% likelihood of having the disorder as well. Dizygotic twins have a 23% concordance rate. These concordance rates are not universally replicated in the literature, recent studies have shown rates of around 40% for monozygotic and <10% for dizygotic twins (see Kieseppa, 2004 [1] and Cardno, 1999 [2]).

In 2003, a group of American and Canadian researchers published a paper that used gene linkage techniques to identify a mutation in the GRK3 gene as a possible cause of up to 10% of cases of bipolar disorder. This gene is associated with a kinase enzyme called G protein receptor kinase 3, which appears to be involved in dopamine metabolism, and may provide a possible target for new drugs for bipolar disorder.[3]

Current and ongoing researchEdit

The following studies are ongoing and are recruiting volunteers.

The Maudsley Bipolar Twin Study, based at the Institute of Psychiatry in London is conducting research about the genetic basis of bipolar disorder using twin methdology. Currently recruiting volunteers: identical and non-identical twins pairs where either one or both twins has a diagnosis of bipolar I or II.

Medical imagingEdit

Researchers are using advanced brain imaging techniques to examine brain function and structure in people with bipolar disorder, particularly using the functional MRI and positron emission tomography. An important area of neuroimaging research focuses on identifying and characterizing networks of interconnected nerve cells in the brain, interactions among which form the basis for normal and abnormal behaviors. Researchers hypothesize that abnormalities in the structure and/or function of certain brain circuits could underlie bipolar and other mood disorders and studies have found anatomical differences in areas such as the prefrontal cortex[4] and hippocampus. Better understanding of the neural circuits involved in regulating mood states, and genetic factors such as the cadherin gene FAT linked to bipolar disorder,[5] may influence the development of new and better treatments and may ultimately aid in early diagnosis and even a cure.

Personality types or traitsEdit

An evolving literature exists concerning the nature of personality and temperament in bipolar disorder patients, compared to major depressive disorder (unipolar) patients and non-sufferers. Such differences may be diagnostically relevant. Using MBTI continuum scores, bipolar patients were significantly more extroverted, intuitive and perceiving, and less introverted, sensing, and judging than were unipolar patients[How to reference and link to summary or text]. This suggests that there might be a correlation between the Jungian extraverted intuiting process and bipolar disorder. There are limitations to this study in that many bipolar individuals, particularly poets, writers, scientists and artists tend to be introverted.

Research into new treatmentsEdit

In late 2003, researchers at McLean Hospital found tentative evidence of improvements in mood during echo-planar magnetic resonance spectroscopic imaging (EP-MRSI), and attempts are being made to develop this into a form which can be evaluated as a possible treatment.[6],[7]

NIMH has initiated a large-scale study at twenty sites across the U.S. to determine the most effective treatment strategies for people with bipolar disorder. This study, the Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder (STEP-BD), will follow patients and document their treatment outcome for 5 to 8 years. For more information, visit the Clinical Trials page of the NIMH Web site[1].

Transcranial magnetic stimulation is another fairly new technique being studied.

Pharmaceutical research is extensive and ongoing, as seen at clinicaltrials.gov.

Gene therapy and nanotechnology are two more areas of future development.

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