Biology of Bipolar Disorder

biology of bipolar disorder

While many of us know in our hearts, and minds, that bipolar disorder is the result of a chemical imbalance or some other dysfunction in the brain, each day I meet far too many naysayers online who insist it is a character defect. They use anecdotal information as proof that we are being spoon-fed disinformation from the psychiatric community. “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” as they say. Frequent exercise and cognitive therapy have helped me tremendously, however, they have not “cured” me of a disorder they don’t believe I have. Their strongest argument, which has some validity, is that psychiatrists consistently refer to having a chemical imbalance when there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case. The magical chemical that causes bipolar or other disorders has never been found.

Nothing conclusive yet, but now we’re getting closer to finding the genetic link for bipolar disorder. It’s a big first step. An article published February 12 edition of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Psychiatry states “Scientists know there is a strong genetic component to bipolar disorder, but they have had an extremely difficult time identifying the genes that cause it. So, in an effort to better understand the illness’s genetic causes, researchers at UCLA tried a new approach.” Researchers, in this test, used a combination of methods to diagnose bipolar disorder. They used brain imaging, cognitive testing and temperament and behavioral measures.”

Instead of using just a standard clinical interview to determine whether individuals met the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the researchers combined the results from brain imaging, cognitive testing, and an array of temperament and behavior measures. Using the new method, UCLA investigators identified about 50 brain and behavioral measures that are both under strong genetic control and associated with bipolar disorder. Their discoveries could be a major step toward identifying the specific genes that contribute to the illness.

“The field of psychiatric genetics has long struggled to find an effective approach to begin dissecting the genetic basis of bipolar disorder,” said Carrie Bearden, a senior author of the study and an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. “This is an innovative approach to identifying genetically influenced brain and behavioral measures that are more closely tied to the underlying biology of bipolar disorder than the clinical symptoms alone are.”

“These findings are really just the first step in getting us a little closer to the roots of bipolar disorder,” Bearden said. “What was really exciting about this project was that we were able to collect the most extensive set of traits associated with bipolar disorder ever assessed within any study sample. This data will be a really valuable resource for the field.”

To me, one of the most interesting parts of the study “was the discovery that the thickness of the gray matter in the brain’s temporal and prefrontal regions — the structures that are critical for language and for higher-order cognitive functions like self-control and problem-solving — were the most promising candidate traits for genetic mapping, based on both their strong genetic basis and association with the disease.” There has been so much conjecture regarding those with bipolar disorder being more intelligent and/or more creative and artistic – are they on the way to finally proving that to be true? Yeah, yeah, I’m probably way off base making that conclusion, but I hope so, so I’m choosing to believe it.

I wrote a post awhile back in which I said if I had to do it all over again I would still have bipolar disorder because it is such a part of who I am and who I’ve become. That’s still true, but what about the future? If this genetic study finds a “cure” for mental illness I’d be first in line. I know this is just a part of numerous studies that are in the early stages, so who knows if this study could lead to a magic pill. Or, if some other study finds a cure in my lifetime, but I can hope. Can’t I?

In a previous article, many of my commenters agreed that bipolar is a part of who they are and, as I said, they wouldn’t change that. What if, however, the magic pill was found in your lifetime? Would you take it?

  26 comments for “Biology of Bipolar Disorder

  1. February 28, 2014 at 18:59

    Chemical imbalance, that is definitely how I look at it. I have tried managing my symptoms with diet, exercise, therapy, and it just doesn’t work. Maybe for some people (though I have never seen it), but not for me.

    • Bradley
      February 28, 2014 at 20:04

      Rose, it’s like you took the words right out of my mouth, I tip my hat to those who do it on their own and it goes well, I hate to be negative, but everyone I’ve known who’s bragged about it seemed pretty negative to me.

  2. February 27, 2014 at 16:13

    I do not really know if I consider Bipolar Disorder to be a part of who I am. I think it is something that I have that I live with and try each day to cope with in a productive manner. I don’t know that I would take the magic pill though. I know that Bipolar changes my personality because of the constant up and down that I go through, but wouldn’t a magic pill also change your personality? And who’s to say that would be better than now?

    • Bradley
      February 27, 2014 at 18:39

      ” wouldn’t a magic pill also change your personality? And who’s to say that would be better than now?”

      Those two are the big questions and why I think there’d be any hesitation.

      • February 27, 2014 at 19:16

        It’s like the way my father described psychoactive drugs to me; they are like keys to block the “doorways” that natural neurotransmitters would ordinarily block which prevents re-uptake of the particular transmitter. But when you close one doorway with a chemical “key”, you open new doors. That has always worried me a bit.

        The doctors know a bit about how these drugs work, but not really enough.

        • WiL
          February 28, 2014 at 07:06

          I would love the know the “me” that has all her neurotransmitters working the way they should be working. That is why I would take the magic pill.

          • February 28, 2014 at 10:59

            I go back and forth. Like today when I am completely nonfuctional. But the good days, I wonder if I would.

          • March 3, 2014 at 16:14

            I think I used to know the me where everything was almost “normal”. But, I do not really know what normal feels like. I think it might freak me out. Or, it may work. There are too many “or’s” and “buts” for me. I think I’ll stick to the mixed state even though it can really, really suck sometimes like when my my head pops off when I have a crisis that has a simple solution.

  3. kat
    February 27, 2014 at 16:00

    i would take the magic pill, in a heartbeat.

    • Bradley
      February 27, 2014 at 18:37

      You and probably millions of others, kat.

  4. Lora
    February 27, 2014 at 15:51

    Great post Brad.

    • Bradley
      February 27, 2014 at 18:35

      Thank you, Lora. I love it when you pop in. I always appreciate your comments.

  5. February 27, 2014 at 11:15

    Why is it that those who know the least, talk the most?

    • Bradley
      February 27, 2014 at 13:02

      I’m sure it’s been a problem since the beginning of time. I don’t expect them to go away anytime soon.

    • February 27, 2014 at 16:09

      Because they do not have a mind to mouth filter. Call me sarcastic, but I have run into so many people who simply believe that it (BP) is psychosomatic. As a Bipolar I with Psychotic tendencies, I find this just ignorant, I have so many people tell me that if I do this thing or that thing, I wouldn’t need my meds.

      I dare them to live in a constant mixed episode where you are basically just stuck. You are too depressed to really get anything done, but you are so manic that you can’t sit still. As a consequence, a lot of stuff gets started but never finished.

      • Bradley
        February 27, 2014 at 18:33

        Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a pill that would put someone through it for just a day so that they’ll understand. I think Maurice would do it.

        • February 27, 2014 at 19:19

          Now that would be nice. You really cannot understand unless you can put yourself in another’s shoes, or you are extremely empathic and compassionate and can just sort of get into someone’s head.

          I know my ex-husband would not have done it were it possible. I couldn’t even get him to read anything about the disorder. He just ranted about the mood swings and what he called “drama”.

      • February 28, 2014 at 04:58

        I am glad you spoke up and I hope the world is listening because your words are important!

        • Bradley
          February 28, 2014 at 06:59

          Thank you, Pam. You always seem to brighten my day

          • February 28, 2014 at 07:28

            It works both ways my friend. You meet the nicest people in this cyber-world!

        • February 28, 2014 at 11:00

          Your message is important too. All of us need to speak up against ignorance and stigma

  6. WiL
    February 27, 2014 at 11:12

    I would take it. The rapid cycling is unbearable at times. I long for stability.

    • Bradley
      February 27, 2014 at 13:01

      Me too, Wil, without hesitation

    • February 27, 2014 at 16:21

      I stabilized at constant mixed episodes. They do affect my life sometimes like when I wake up at midnight and decide to clean up my room (manic), or when I just do not want and can not make it out of the house because I just do not want to see people(depressed).I don’t really cycle like I used to. Now it is a mild to moderate mixed state and has been for months.

      I really do not know what I would do if they were to come up with a magic pill. I am so used to being manic-depressive all the time (going on over 20 years), that I think it might freak me out if there were a pill that would completely get rid of it. Now, if they could fix my paranoia and PTSD that I would take.

      • Bradley
        February 27, 2014 at 18:31

        That’s why I asked the question. I’m much more stable, like you, these days but I’ve wondered in the past if I would lose my sense of self in the process. I don’t know what changed, but I think I would ESPECIALLY if it would reduce my anxiety which is what really holds me back..

        • February 27, 2014 at 19:25

          Boy, do I know how that feels. I have been collecting names on a petition to get a woman nominated to run for Children’s Court judge here. I was at the bus stop before I realized I had not taken morning meds. I was a little nervous for most of the day.

          To tell the truth, I do not know if the meds stabilized me where I am now; a mild madness, or if it has been a combination of therapy, a good psychiatrist, and Buddhist practice. I have noticed a definite increase in overall stability, acceptance, and overall satisfaction in my life that I did not have 5 years ago.

          I really believe that in order to be “healthy” and manage this disorder there needs to be a holistic approach which definitely includes whatever flavor of spirituality brings you peace.

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