Neurocognitive Correlates of Emotional Stimulus Processing in Pediatric Bipolar Disorder:

A Review

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Heather R. Rosen, BA and Brendan A. Rich, PhD

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Postgraduate Medicine:

Volume 122 No. 4


Clinical Focus

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DOI: 10.3810/pgm.2010.07.2177
Abstract: Despite low prevalence rates in epidemiological studies, recent research suggests that bipolar disorder (BD) is being diagnosed at increasingly high rates in children and adolescents. To clarify the nosological boundaries of the disorder, studies of the clinical presentation of bipolar youth should be complemented with examinations of cognitive and neural functioning. More specifically, delineating the neurocognitive functioning of youth with BD when processing emotional stimuli may best elucidate how certain emotional contexts elicit symptoms that characterize pediatric BD. This information has the potential to clarify causes of pediatric BD, and to confirm the diagnosis of BD in youth. In this article, we discuss the affective, behavioral, cognitive, and neurological functioning of youth with BD when processing emotional stimuli. We focus on studies that have employed paradigms involving pictures and words with emotional valence, faces with emotional expressions, and responses to reward and punishment. The most consistent results on behavior are from studies involving facial stimuli, which find that youth with BD display a tendency to mislabel face emotions. Neurological data demonstrate that emotion-processing deficits in pediatric BD involve dysfunction within a distributed fronto-striatal-limbic network, including the dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, striatum, and amygdala. These data may begin to clarify why BD youth present with poor social functioning and deficits in regulating their affect and behavior.

Keywords: bipolar disorder , children , neuroimaging , emotions , faces , punishment