Background: Adults with bipolar disorder (BD) have cognitive impairments that affect face processing and social cognition. However, it remains unknown whether these deficits in euthymic BD have impaired brain markers of emotional processing.
Methodology/principal findings: We recruited twenty six participants, 13 controls subjects with an equal number of euthymic BD participants. We used an event-related potential (ERP) assessment of a dual valence task (DVT), in which faces (angry and happy), words (pleasant and unpleasant), and face-word simultaneous combinations are presented to test the effects of the stimulus type (face vs word) and valence (positive vs. negative). All participants received clinical, neuropsychological and social cognition evaluations. ERP analysis revealed that both groups showed N170 modulation of stimulus type effects (face > word). BD patients exhibited reduced and enhanced N170 to facial and semantic valence, respectively. The neural source estimation of N170 was a posterior section of the fusiform gyrus (FG), including the face fusiform area (FFA). Neural generators of N170 for faces (FG and FFA) were reduced in BD. In these patients, N170 modulation was associated with social cognition (theory of mind).
Conclusions/significance: This is the first report of euthymic BD exhibiting abnormal N170 emotional discrimination associated with theory of mind impairments.