Bipolar disorder is a chronically disabling psychiatric disorder characterized by manic states that is often interspersed with periods of depression whose neurobiology remains largely unknown. There is, however, increasing evidence that white matter (WM) abnormalities may play an important role in the neurobiology of the disorder. In this review we critically evaluate evidence for WM abnormalities in bipolar disorder obtained from neuroimaging, neuropathological, and genetic research. Increased rates of white matter hyperintensities, regional volumetric abnormalities, abnormal water diffusion along prefrontal-subcortical tracts, fewer oligodendrocytes in prefrontal WM, and alterations in the expression of myelin- and oligodendrocyte-related genes are among the most consistent findings. Abnormalities converge in the prefrontal WM and, in particular, tracts that connect prefrontal regions and subcortical gray matter structures known to be involved in emotion. Taken together, the evidence supports and clarifies a model of BD that involves disconnectivity in regions implicated in emotion generation and regulation.
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