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Monday 24th October 2016

Bipolar disorder shrinks brain size

20th July 2007

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have discovered that sufferers of bipolar disorder show increased shrinkage of certain areas of the brain.


A four-year study, published in Biological Psychiatry, indicated that subjects' brains showed a loss of tissue in the segments which are responsible for memory, face recognition and co-ordination.

Scientists examined the MRI scans of 20 patients with bipolar disorder and those of subjects who did not have the condition. The scans revealed that the brains from both groups lost some tissue during the four-year period.

However, the group with bipolar disorder lost significantly more grey matter - which is responsible for handling nerve signals - than the other subjects.

Researchers saw that the group which exhibited the highest loss of grey matter showed more incidences of "mania and depression and the biggest decline in brain function."

Bipolar disorder is understood to affect 500,000 people in the UK. Sufferers experience manic and depressive episodes.

The study's head, Dr Andrew McIntosh said: "It may be that repeated episodes of illness harm the brain and lead to the decline."

"Another possibility is that the brain changes are caused by stress or genetic factors, which tend to lead both to more frequent illness episodes and to greater brain loss."

Dr Philip Timms, honorary senior lecturer in psychiatry at King's College London, commented that the study put forward some important questions, including whether the "changes" in the brain were causing bipolar disorder, or if the disorder was "causing the brain changes."

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