Background: Abnormalities in affective cognition are putative endophenotypes for bipolar and unipolar disorders but it is unclear whether some abnormalities are disorder-specific. We therefore investigated affective cognition in monozygotic twins at familial risk of bipolar disorder relative to those at risk of unipolar disorder and to low-risk twins.
Methods: Seventy monozygotic twins with a co-twin history of bipolar disorder (n = 11), of unipolar disorder (n = 38) or without co-twin history of affective disorder (n = 21) were included. Variables of interest were recognition of and vigilance to emotional faces, emotional reactivity and -regulation in social scenarios and non-affective cognition.
Results: Twins at familial risk of bipolar disorder showed increased recognition of low to moderate intensity of happy facial expressions relative to both unipolar disorder high-risk twins and low-risk twins. Bipolar disorder high-risk twins also displayed supraliminal attentional avoidance of happy faces compared with unipolar disorder high-risk twins and greater emotional reactivity in positive and neutral social scenarios and less reactivity in negative social scenarios than low-risk twins. In contrast with our hypothesis, there was no negative bias in unipolar disorder high-risk twins. There were no differences between the groups in demographic characteristics or non-affective cognition.
Limitations: The modest sample size limited the statistical power of the study.
Conclusions: Increased sensitivity and reactivity to positive social stimuli may be a neurocognitive endophenotype that is specific for bipolar disorder. If replicated in larger samples, this 'positive endophenotype' could potentially aid future diagnostic differentiation between unipolar and bipolar disorder.
Keywords: Affective cognition; Bipolar disorder; Emotion reactivity; Emotion regulation; Endophenotype; Twin study.
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