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Relatively few studies have investigated whether relatives of patients with bipolar disorder show brain functional changes, and these have focused on activation changes. Failure of de-activation during cognitive task performance is also seen in the disorder and may have trait-like characteristics since it has been found in euthymia.
A total of 20 euthymic patients with bipolar disorder, 20 of their unaffected siblings and 40 healthy controls underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging during performance of the n-back working memory task. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was fitted to individual whole-brain maps from each set of patient–relative–matched pair of controls. Clusters of significant difference among the groups were used as regions of interest to compare mean activations/de-activations between them.
A single cluster of significant difference among the three groups was found in the whole-brain ANOVA. This was located in the medial prefrontal cortex, a region of task-related de-activation in the healthy controls. Both the patients and their siblings showed significantly reduced de-activation compared with the healthy controls in this region, but the failure was less marked in the relatives.
Failure to de-activate the medial prefrontal cortex in both euthymic bipolar patients and their unaffected siblings adds to evidence for default mode network dysfunction in the disorder, and suggests that it may act as a trait marker.
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