Distinct brain activity alterations of treatment for bipolar disorders with psychotherapy and drug therapy: activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis

Psychol Med. 2023 Feb;53(3):625-637. doi: 10.1017/S0033291722003889. Epub 2023 Feb 1.


Backgrounds: Many studies suggest that both psychotherapy and drug therapy are effective in the treatment of bipolar disorders (BDs). However, the pathophysiology of both types of intervention has not been established definitively.

Methods: An activation likelihood estimation meta-analysis was performed to identify the distinct brain activity alterations between psychotherapy and drug therapy for the treatment of BDs. Articles were identified by searching databases including PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Library, and Web of Science databases. Eligible studies on BDs were published up until 10 June 2021.

Results: 21 studies were included and we conducted a meta-analysis for different therapies and imaging tasks. After receiving psychotherapy, BD patients showed increased activation in the inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and superior temporal gyrus. While after taking drug therapy, BD patients displayed increased activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, medial frontal gyrus, IFG, and decreased activation in the posterior cingulate cortex. The regions of brain activity changes caused by psychotherapy were mostly focused on the frontal areas, while drug therapy mainly impacted on the limbic areas. Different type of tasks also affected brain regions which were activated.

Conclusions: Our comprehensive meta-analysis indicates that these two treatments might have effect on BD in their own therapeutic modes. Psychotherapy might have a top-down effect, while drug therapy might have a bottom-up effect. This study may contribute to differential diagnosis of BDs and would be helpful to finding more accurate neuroimaging biomarkers for BD treatment.

Keywords: Bipolar disorder; psychotherapy; drug therapy; meta-analysis; activation likelihood estimation; brain activity alterations.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bipolar Disorder* / diagnostic imaging
  • Bipolar Disorder* / drug therapy
  • Brain
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Psychotherapy