Background: The symptoms of bipolar disorder suggest dysfunction of emotion regulatory networks. In healthy control populations, downregulation of emotional responses activates the ventral lateral prefrontal cortex (vlPFC) and dampens amygdala activation. This study investigated frontal and limbic function and connectivity during emotion downregulation in euthymic subjects with bipolar I disorder (BPI) and healthy control subjects.
Methods: Thirty BPI and 26 control subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging scanning while performing an emotion processing task with passive viewing and emotion downregulation conditions. Contrasts were made for each group comparing the downregulation and passive viewing conditions, and these were entered into a between-group random effects analysis to assess group differences in activation. Psychophysiological interaction analyses were conducted to test for significant group differences in functional connectivity between the amygdala and inhibitory frontal regions (i.e., vlPFC).
Results: Control subjects showed the expected robust bilateral activation of frontal and limbic regions during passive viewing and emotion downregulation tasks. Between-group analyses revealed similar activation of BPI and control subjects during passive viewing but significantly decreased activation in bilateral vlPFC, bilateral anterior and posterior cingulate, medial frontal gyrus, and bilateral dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex during emotion downregulation in subjects with BPI. Connectivity analysis demonstrated that control subjects had significantly greater negative functional connectivity between the left amygdala and bilateral vlPFC compared with subjects with BPI.
Conclusions: This study provides evidence that dysfunction in the neural networks responsible for emotion regulation, including the prefrontal cortex, cingulate, and subcortical structures, are present in BPI subjects, even while euthymic.
Copyright © 2013 Society of Biological Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.