Brain structural effects of psychopharmacological treatment in bipolar disorder
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McDonald, Colm (2015). Brain structural effects of psychopharmacological treatment in bipolar disorder. Current Neuropharmacology 13 (4), 445-457
Bipolar disorder is associated with subtle neuroanatomical deficits including lateral ventricular enlargement, grey matter deficits incorporating limbic system structures, and distributed white matter pathophysiology. Substantial heterogeneity has been identified by structural neuroimaging studies to date and differential psychotropic medication use is potentially a substantial contributor to this. This selective review of structural neuroimaging and diffusion tensor imaging studies considers evidence that lithium, mood stabilisers, antipsychotic medication and antidepressant medications are associated with neuroanatomical variation. Most studies are negative and suffer from methodological weaknesses in terms of directly assessing medication effects on neuroanatomy, since they commonly comprise posthoc assessments of medication associations with neuroimaging metrics in small heterogenous patient groups. However the studies which report positive findings tend to form a relatively consistent picture whereby lithium and antiepileptic mood stabiliser use is associated with increased regional grey matter volume, especially in limbic structures. These findings are further supported by the more methodologically robust studies which include large numbers of patients or repeated intra-individual scanning in longitudinal designs. Some similar findings of an apparently ameliorative effect of lithium on white matter microstructure are also emerging. There is less support for an effect of antipsychotic or antidepressant medication on brain structure in bipolar disorder, but these studies are further limited by methodological difficulties. In general the literature to date supports a normalising effect of lithium and mood stabilisers on brain structure in bipolar disorder, which is consistent with the neuroprotective characteristics of these medications identified by preclinical studies.