Stable neural underpinnings of emotional cognition subgroups in patients newly diagnosed with bipolar disorder: A prospective fMRI study

Bipolar Disord. 2024 May 2. doi: 10.1111/bdi.13444. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: This study aimed to investigate the neural underpinnings of emotional cognition subgroups in recently diagnosed patients with bipolar disorder (BD) and change over time over a 15-month follow-up period.

Methods: Patients and healthy controls (HC) underwent emotional and nonemotional cognitive assessments and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at the baseline (BD n = 87; HC n = 65) and at 15-month follow-up (BD n = 44; HC n = 38). Neural activity during emotion reactivity and regulation in response to aversive pictures was assessed during fMRI. Patients were clustered into subgroups based on their emotional cognition and, with HC, were compared longitudinally on cognition and neural activity during emotion reactivity and regulation.

Results: Patients were optimally clustered into two subgroups: Subgroup 1 (n = 40, 46%) was characterized by heightened emotional reactivity in negative social scenarios, which persisted over time, but were otherwise cognitively intact. This subgroup exhibited stable left amygdala hyper-activity over time during emotion reactivity compared to subgroup 2. Subgroup 2 (n = 47, 54%) was characterized by global emotional cognitive impairments, including stable difficulties with emotion regulation over time. During emotion regulation across both time points, this group exhibited hypo-activity in the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Additionally, patients in subgroup 2 had poorer nonemotional cognition, had more psychiatric hospital admissions and history of psychotic episodes than those in subgroup 1.

Conclusions: Broad impairments in emotional cognition in approximately half of BD patients and associated nonemotional cognitive deficits may originate from insufficient recruitment of prefrontal resources, contributing to poorer clinical outcomes.

Keywords: affective; amygdala; cognition; emotion regulation; mood disorders; neuroimaging; prefrontal cortex.