Bipolar studies point to ‘brain shrinkage’

Scientists have suggested that bipolar disorder may cause accelerated shrinking of certain parts of the brain.

Studies of people with the condition used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to detect dwindling levels of brain tissue in areas controlling memory, face recognition and physical co-ordination.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that those patients with the greatest tissue-shrinkage had also experienced the most episodes of mania and depression in their lives.

But study leader Dr Andrew McIntosh said the research could not show whether the loss of brain tissue was a cause or a consequence of having bipolar disorder.

And Dr Phillip Timms of King’s College London said: “The important question is are the brain changes causing the disorder or is the disorder – and its associated stress – causing the brain changes?”

Whichever way round, say the team at Edinburgh, the study emphasises the importance of maintaining people in remission and of getting them the best treatment.

To read the latest issue of Biological Psychiatry, in which the McIntosh study appears, click here.