Brain Dynamics Underlying Reward Processing in Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a debilitating disease with high rates of suicide, disability, and unemployment. Although medication treatments are useful in managing acute symptoms and preventing relapse, their effectiveness and side effect profile are far from satisfactory. One major barrier to developing better therapies is our limited understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying core symptoms and behavior of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by excessive goal pursuit, pleasure seeking and risk taking, and substance misuse and addiction—all of which can seriously threaten safety and compromise functional capacity and quality of life. Recent research in behavioral and neural responses to positive and rewarding events in bipolar disorder suggests that a dysregulated reward-related brain system may be underlying these core features of bipolar disorder. Therefore, investigating how rewarding events are processed in the brain of people with bipolar disorder is a promising avenue to improving our understanding of the disorder and identifying better treatment options. 

This study, led by Dr. Ivy Tso  and funded by the Depression Center Rachel Upjohn Clinical Scholar Award and a MICHR Pilot Grant, aims to understand the brain dynamics underlying altered reward processing in bipolar disorder. It uses a non-invasive neuroimaging technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to “see the brain at work” when participants are working to achieve a reward. A cutting-edge analytic method called dynamic causal modeling (DCM) will be used to identify brain circuit dysfunctions related to altered reward processing.

The results of this study are expected to help design neurobiologically-informed treatment, such as pairing neuroplasticity-based cognitive training with brain stimulation (such as transcranial direct current stimulation) to increase the effect and pace of treatment. This study also has the potential to facilitate personalized treatment, allowing treatment to target specific brain circuit dysfunctions displayed by the individual.

This study has received approval from: IRBMED  HUM00110093