Brain imaging identifies differences in childhood bipolar disorder, ADHD

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are the first to use brain imaging to examine the effects of emotion on working memory function in children with paediatric bipolar disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The study is published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

PBD and ADHD are very severe developmental disorders that share behavioural characteristics such as impulsivity, irritability and attention problems.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers at UIC examined the brain activity of children as they performed a working memory task while viewing faces with different emotions, such as angry, happy or neutral expressions.

The children, ages 10 to 18, were asked to remember the faces and to press a button in the MR-scanner if they saw the same face that was presented two trials earlier. The study involved 23 non-medicated children with bipolar disorder, 14 non-medicated children with ADHD and 19 healthy controls.

"It's a simple yet elegant working memory test that tells us a lot about how their brain remembers stimuli like faces or objects," said Alessandra Passarotti, assistant professor of psychiatry at UIC and lead author of the study. "We also added in an emotional component -- because both disorders show emotional deficits -- to study how their working memory is affected by emotional challenge."