Background: Bipolar disorder type I (BP-I) belongs to a spectrum of affective disorders that are expressed in many different ways and therefore can be difficult to distinguish from other conditions, especially unipolar depression, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia (SZ), but also anxiety and personality disorders. Since early diagnosis and treatment have shown to improve the long-term prognosis, complementary specific biomarkers are of great value. The auditory brainstem response (ABR) has previously been applied successfully to identify specific abnormal ABR patterns in SZ and Asperger syndrome.
Methods: The current study investigated the early auditory processing of complex sound stimuli e.g. forward masking, in BP-I compared to SZ patients. The ABR curves of BP-I patients (n=23) and SZ patients (n=20) were analyzed in terms of peak amplitudes and correlation with an ABR norm curve based on a non-psychiatric control group (n=20).
Results: BP-I patients had significantly higher wave III (p=0.0062) and wave VII (p=0.0472) amplitudes compared with SZ patients. Furthermore, BP-I patients, and to a lesser extent SZ patients, showed low correlation with the norm ABR curve in the part of the curve comprising waves VI-VII.
Limitations: Sample size was relatively small and study groups were not matched for age and gender.
Conclusions: BP-I patients showed specific aberrances, specifically in the latter part of the ABR curve, implicating abnormalities in thalamocortical circuitry. The abnormal ABR wave patterns significantly separated BP-I patients from SZ patients suggesting that ABR might serve as a biomarker for BP-I.
Keywords: Auditory brainstem response; Biomarker; Bipolar disorder; Electrophysiology; Schizophrenia; Thalamus.
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