Inefficiency of emotion regulation as vulnerability marker for bipolar disorder: Evidence from healthy individuals with hypomanic personality

Center for Doctoral Studies in Social and Behavioral Sciences, Graduate School of Economic and Social Sciences, University of Mannheim, Germany.
Journal of Affective Disorders (Impact Factor: 3.71). 08/2013; 152. DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.001
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Emotion regulation deficits are a key characteristic of bipolar disorder (BD). In the present study, we asked if deficits in emotion regulation are also a vulnerability marker for BD. To this end, we investigated a healthy group of participants at high-risk for developing BD, defined on the basis of a hypomanic personality trait. We examined the neural correlates of two emotion regulation strategies, reappraisal and distraction.
Twenty-two individuals with higher risk for BD and twenty-four controls were investigated in a functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm. Participants were presented with negative, positive and neutral pictures and were either required to passively view the images, to down-regulate the emotional response by reappraising the pictures' content, or to perform a distracting arithmetic task.
High-risk individuals showed increased emotional reactivity to negative stimuli, indicated by heightened amygdala activation during passive viewing. High-risk participants were also less successful in down-regulating amygdala activity using reappraisal of negative stimuli. During distraction from positive stimuli, high-risk individuals showed heightened task-related activity in the inferior parietal cortex, suggesting increased distractibility by task-irrelevant positive background stimuli. There were no differences in habitual emotion regulation as assessed by a self-report questionnaire.
Generalizability of the present results is limited by the age- and education-homogenous sample and the small sample size.
This is the first study to report neural correlates of increased emotional reactivity and deficient emotion regulation in healthy individuals at risk for BD. These findings suggest inefficient emotion regulation through reappraisal and distraction in individuals with high hypomanic personality who are supposed to be at higher risk to develop bipolar disorder.

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    ABSTRACT: Deficient emotion regulation has been proposed as a crucial pathological mechanism in bipolar disorder (BD). We therefore investigated emotion regulation impairments in BD, the related neural underpinnings and their etiological relevance for the disorder. Twenty-two euthymic patients with bipolar-I disorder and 17 unaffected first-degree relatives of BD-I patients, as well as two groups of healthy gender-, age- and education-matched controls (N=22/17, respectively) were included. Participants underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging while applying two different emotion regulation techniques, reappraisal and distraction, when presented with emotional images. BD patients and relatives showed impaired downregulation of amygdala activity during reappraisal, but not during distraction, when compared with controls. This deficit was correlated with the habitual use of reappraisal. The negative connectivity of amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) observed during reappraisal in controls was reversed in BD patients and relatives. There were no significant differences between BD patients and relatives. As being observed in BD patients and unaffected relatives, deficits in emotion regulation through reappraisal may represent heritable neurobiological abnormalities underlying BD. The neural mechanisms include impaired control of amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli and dysfunctional connectivity of the amygdala to regulatory control regions in the OFC. These are, thus, important aspects of the neurobiological basis of increased vulnerability for BD.


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May 22, 2014