The German research consortium for the study of bipolar disorder (BipoLife): a magnetic resonance imaging study protocol

Int J Bipolar Disord. 2021 Nov 17;9(1):37. doi: 10.1186/s40345-021-00240-6.


Background: Bipolar disorder is one of the most severe mental disorders. Its chronic course is associated with high rates of morbidity and mortality, a high risk of suicide and poor social and occupational outcomes. Despite the great advances over the last decades in understanding mental disorders, the mechanisms underlying bipolar disorder at the neural network level still remain elusive. This has severe consequences for clinical practice, for instance by inadequate diagnoses or delayed treatments. The German research consortium BipoLife aims to shed light on the mechanisms underlying bipolar disorders. It was established in 2015 and incorporates ten university hospitals across Germany. Its research projects focus in particular on individuals at high risk of bipolar disorder, young patients in the early stages of the disease and patients with an unstable highly relapsing course and/or with acute suicidal ideation.

Methods: Functional and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data was acquired across nine sites within three different studies. Obtaining neuroimaging data in a multicenter setting requires among others the harmonization of the acquisition protocol, the standardization of paradigms and the implementation of regular quality control procedures. The present article outlines the MRI imaging protocols, the acquisition parameters, the imaging paradigms, the neuroimaging quality assessment procedures and the number of recruited subjects.

Discussion: The careful implementation of a MRI study protocol as well as the adherence to well-defined quality assessment procedures is one key benchmark in the evaluation of the overall quality of large-scale multicenter imaging studies. This article contributes to the BipoLife project by outlining the rationale and the design of the MRI study protocol. It helps to set the necessary standards for follow-up analyses and provides the technical details for an in-depth understanding of follow-up publications.

Keywords: BipoLife; Bipolar disorder; Early intervention; Early recognition; MRI quality assurance; Major depression; Multicenter study; fMRI.