Objective: To investigate the presence of temperament dysregulation in healthy relatives of bipolar probands (RBP), a population at high risk for developing mood disorders, by comparing them with clinically recovered bipolar patients (BP) and normal controls (NC).
Method: 52 RBP and 23 BP were originally recruited for a multicenter genetic study in bipolar disorders. NC (n=102) were also recruited by newspaper advertisement, radio and television announcements, flyers, newsletters, or word of mouth. All volunteers were asked to complete the TEMPS-A Scale, a self-report questionnaire designed to measure temperamental variations in psychiatric patients and healthy volunteers. In scoring temperaments, we relied upon the short validated version of the TEMPS-A [J. Affect. Disord. (2004)], from which traits with loadings <0.035 had been deleted.
Results: To examine differences in temperament dimensions among the three groups, a MANCOVA model was constructed using diagnostic group as the fixed factor (BP vs. RBP vs. NC); effects of age and gender were adjusted as covariates. MANCOVA showed overall group effect on the dependent variables (Hotelling's F5,175=6.64, p<0.001). Four dependent variables (dysthymic, cyclothymic, irritable, and anxious temperaments) showed significant between-group differences. RBP showed lower cyclothymic temperament scores than BP, but higher scores than NC. BP and RBP showed higher anxious temperament scores than NC. Hyperthymic scores were significantly highest in the NC.
Limitation: In view of the small cell sizes, bipolar I vs. bipolar II subanalyses could not be conducted.
Conclusions: Methodologic strengths of the present analyses is that the BP group had clinically recovered, and we used the validated short version of the TEMPS-A for the present analyses. Our findings suggest that some clinically healthy relatives of bipolar probands exhibit a subclinical cyclothymic instability in mood, interest, self-confidence, sleep, and/or energy as well as anxiety proneness that is not observed among normal controls. These traits may represent vulnerability markers and could presumably be used to identify individuals at high risk for developing bipolar spectrum disorders, or specific clinical subtypes (e.g., bipolar I, bipolar II) within this spectrum. This is a conceptual perspective with many unanswered questions. Resolution of these questions will require innovative definitions of phenotypes to be included in the analyses of the temperament subscales in different populations. The temperament subscales themselves need to be calibrated properly, to find out which traits or specific combinations of trains are most promising. More extensive and complex quantitative trait analyses of these temperaments in a much expanded sample are reported elsewhere in this issue [J. Affect. Disord. (2004)].