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Bipolar disorder (BD), with the hallmark symptoms of elevated and depressed mood, is thought to be characterized by underlying alterations in reward-processing networks. However, to date the neural circuitry underlying abnormal responses during reward processing in BD remains largely unexplored. The aim of this study was to investigate whether euthymic BD is characterized by aberrant ventral striatal (VS) activation patterns and altered connectivity with the prefrontal cortex in response to monetary gains and losses.
During functional magnetic resonance imaging 20 euthymic BD patients and 20 age-, gender- and intelligence quotient-matched healthy controls completed a monetary incentive delay paradigm, to examine neural processing of reward and loss anticipation. A priori defined regions of interest (ROIs) included the VS and the anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC). Psychophysiological interactions (PPIs) between these ROIs were estimated and tested for group differences for reward and loss anticipation separately.
BD participants, relative to healthy controls, displayed decreased activation selectively in the left and right VS during anticipation of reward, but not during loss anticipation. PPI analyses showed decreased functional connectivity between the left VS and aPFC in BD patients compared with healthy controls during reward anticipation.
This is the first study showing decreased VS activity and aberrant connectivity in the reward-processing circuitry in euthymic, medicated BD patients during reward anticipation. Our findings contrast with research supporting a reward hypersensitivity model of BD, and add to the body of literature suggesting that blunted activation of reward processing circuits may be a vulnerability factor for mood disorders.
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