Neuroimaging Insights Into Bipolar Disorder

Neuroimaging Insights Into Bipolar Disorder
Associate Professor Wei Wen

School of Psychiatry researchers have used neuroimaging to study white matter integrity in patients with bipolar disorder (BD).  The findings, obtained using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) were published recently in Psychological Medicine.  The collaborative study brought together researchers from across the School of Psychiatry, UNSW, including lead author and Head of the School, Professor Philip Mitchell, and Associate Professor Wei Wen, Leader of the Neuroimaging group at the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA).

Associate Professor Wen, responsible for assessing brain scans in this study, explained that new developments in neuroimaging were improving our understanding of the brain and associated disorders.

“In this study, collaborations between multidisciplinary researchers helped us to tackle a complex problem from new perspectives,” said Associate Professor Wen. “We combined researchers with extensive understanding of bipolar disorder with researchers with expertise in DTI techniques, getting the best of both worlds.”

The current study built on previous findings of white matter impairments in individuals with BD and at high familial risk of developing the disorder. Scans were taken from 63 individuals with BD, 150 high risk individuals and 111 individuals with no family history of mental illness in order to characterise the distribution of white matter impairments in the corpus callosum, a region of the brain that connects the two hemispheres.

“We found that high risk individuals who had experienced recurring episodes of major depressive disorder were more likely to have abnormalities, as were individuals with BD, than controls,” said Associate Professor Wen.

The authors suggest that this novel finding may provide a new trait marker for BD, although further longitudinal studies would be needed to validate this.

Associate Professor Wen has an established track record in a range of neuroimaging techniques, including DTI, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and functional MRI (fMRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

His work with CHeBA spans a range of areas, including brain ageing pathways, mapping and modeling cerebral white matter hyperintensities, and mapping structural brain connectivity using DTI tractography.  He is heavily involved with CHeBA’s international consortia examining risk and protective factors for dementia, which are informing The Dementia Momentum initiative.

Media contact:
Heidi Mitchell | Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing | +61 2 9382 3398 | 0435 579 202

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