Bipolar disorder: anomalous brain asymmetry associated with psychosis

Am J Psychiatry. 1999 Aug;156(8):1159-63. doi: 10.1176/ajp.156.8.1159.


Objective: Anomalous cerebral asymmetry in schizophreniform disorders has been described, but its presence in psychotic mood disorders has not been established. Measures of cerebral asymmetry may distinguish patients with psychotic mood disorders from those with nonpsychotic mood disorders and from comparison subjects. To test this hypothesis, the authors examined functional cerebral asymmetry by using a metric based on magnetic source imaging.

Method: A total of 33 subjects participated. Nine were patients with bipolar I disorder and a negative history of psychotic symptoms during mood disorder episodes, 12 were patients with bipolar I disorder and a positive history of psychotic symptoms during mood disorder episodes, and 12 were nonpsychiatric comparison subjects. Equivalent current dipole generators in both hemispheres were estimated for the 20-msec-latency somatosensory evoked field (M20) component produced by stimulation of the contralateral median nerve.

Results: The comparison subjects demonstrated asymmetry in anterior-posterior equivalent current dipole locations of the M20 (right anterior to left), and the bipolar subjects with no history of psychosis were similarly asymmetric. The bipolar subjects with a history of psychosis during mood episodes, however, demonstrated a reversal of cerebral asymmetry of the M20 (left anterior to right).

Conclusions: Cerebral lateralization of the M20 distinguished bipolar subjects with psychosis from those without psychosis and comparison subjects. The M20 is generated in area 3b of the postcentral gyrus. These findings suggest anatomical displacement of the postcentral gyrus in psychotic disorders and support the hypothesis that anomalous cerebral asymmetry is a feature of psychotic disorders generally, including psychotic mood disorders.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bipolar Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Evoked Potentials, Somatosensory / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Magnetics*
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Median Nerve / physiology