Teen Brain Develops Differently in Bipolar Disorder, When Medicated

Rob Wipond
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The brains of adolescents diagnosed with bipolar disorder develop differently than the brains of teens without the disorder, according to a study in Biological Psychiatry. Though not mentioned in the abstract or press release, a table in the study showed that most of the teens suffering brain volume loss were taking one or more psychotropic medications.

Investigators from the Yale School of Medicine did brain scans over two years of 35 teens diagnosed with bipolar disorder and 37 without the disorder. In the brains of teens with bipolar, they found “larger-than-expected volume loss in a region that included the insula and the orbitofrontal, rostral, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices, including greater gray matter contraction and decreased white matter expansion over time,” reported Medscape Medical News.

The findings provided supportive evidence of “neurodevelopmental abnormalities” in teens with bipolar disorder, concluded the researchers.

Near the end of their paper, the researchers noted that, “The majority of subjects were taking psychotropic medications.”

Other studies have linked brain volume loss to use of some common psychotropics. In this study, the researchers commented that, “Subjects reported varying medication combinations, and medications were not studied systematically. Studying medication load would be ideal; however, reliability of reports of specific medications taken and amounts were not clear.”

Najt, Pablo, Fei Wang, Linda Spencer, Jennifer A. Y. Johnston, Elizabeth T. Cox Lippard, Brian P. Pittman, Cheryl Lacadie, Lawrence H. Staib, Xenophon Papademetris, and Hilary P. Blumberg. “Anterior Cortical Development During Adolescence in Bipolar Disorder.” Biological Psychiatry. Accessed June 3, 2015. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2015.03.026. (Abstract)

Bipolar Disorder Linked to Altered Brain Development (Medscape Medical News, June 1, 2015)

The adolescent brain develops differently in bipolar disorder (Yale News, May 29, 2015)

5 COMMENTS

  1. I saw the promotion of the study and wanted to track it down to find the drug status of those studied. That is a pretty striking oversight in the abstract and promotional material. This is the error that was made for 30 years in the studies of schizophrenia – to not question the role of the drugs in contributing to the findings. This finding was a foundation of the neurodevelopmental theory of schizophrenia. As you point out, it turns out the drugs at the very least contribute to the findings of atrophy but just like to dopamine hypothesis of schizophrenia, the idea has stuck and it can take a very long time for people to step back and question the basic theory.

    • They are not stupid in the ability to get good grades in school but in the area of common sense. Like the nerd who gets straight A’s but can’t get a date because he is socially clueless. The link between brain shrinkage and psych drugs was ignored due to what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. To accept that they are shrinking their patients brains to their patients detriment conflicts with the idea of the Hippocratic oath and would make them uncomfortable, therefore their attention is diverted from this idea.

  2. I just don’t know how this is possible. I mean, the researchers must know its the drugs causing these brain abnormalities right? How could they not? How can they not blame the drugs? It’s already been proven in studies that all it takes is ONE SINGLE DOSE of an SSRI antidepressant to immediately change the brain’s structure by reducing connectivity to nearly all parts of the brain.

    http://www.newsweek.com/antidepressants-can-change-your-brain-immediately-study-271371

    It’s sickening that the research industry is still trying to use studies like this as their proof that bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, etc. are physicall brain diseases caused by the brain itself. They are lying to the public saying these brain abnormalities just “form on their on due to the disease”. ITS THE BRAIN DRUGS CAUSING ALL THESE BRAIN STRUCTURE PROBLEMS.

    Are these Yale researchers not allowed to blame the drugs because it would discredit the psychiatric pharmaceutical industry? Because it would show that its a huge multi-billion dollar brain damage scam? I’m starting to think so. The proof is out there that these drugs are NOT treatment, but rather the diseases themselves. They are selling people brain damaging drugs and the money is too good to put a stop to it.

  3. They probably do have data where they could look at differences between brains of teens who have bipolar (but have not taken drugs) versus a comparison group . I’m sure someone has done studies that include a battery of testing, including brain imaging, at the time of diagnosis ( should look through NIH Reporter and PubMed for this). Actually, I would expect this more for schizophrenia, with all the emphasis on first episode and prevention programs. Of course, it would be easy to just say that these brain changes take time to develop, but this study design could be useful for teasing out effects of drug versus disease.