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Psychol Med. 2009 Aug;39(8):1253-63. doi: 10.1017/S0033291708004832. Epub 2008 Dec 11.

Neurocognitive impairment in unaffected siblings of youth with bipolar disorder.

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  • 1Pediatric Psychopharmacology Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, Child Psychiatry Service, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114, USA.



There is growing evidence for the familiality of pediatric bipolar disorder (BPD) and its association with impairments on measures of processing speed, verbal learning and 'executive' functions. The current study investigated whether these neurocognitive impairments index the familial risk underlying the diagnosis.


Subjects were 170 youth with BPD (mean age 12.3 years), their 118 non-mood-disordered siblings and 79 non-mood-disordered controls. Groups were compared on a battery of neuropsychological tests from the Wechsler Intelligence Scales, the Stroop Color Word Test, the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), the Rey-Osterrieth Complex Figure (ROCF), an auditory working memory Continuous Performance Test (CPT) and the California Verbal Learning Test-Children's Version (CVLT-C). Measures were factor analyzed for data reduction purposes. All analyses controlled for age, sex and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


Principal components analyses with a promax rotation yielded three factors reflecting: (1) processing speed/verbal learning, (2) working memory/interference control and (3) abstract problem solving. The CPT working memory measure with interference filtering demands (WM INT) was only administered to subjects aged > or =12 years and was therefore analyzed separately. BPD youth showed impairments versus controls and unaffected relatives on all three factors and on the WM INT. Unaffected relatives exhibited impairments versus controls on the abstract problem-solving factor and the WM INT. They also showed a statistical trend (p=0.07) towards worse performance on the working memory/interference control factor.


Neurocognitive impairments in executive functions may reflect the familial neurobiological risk mechanisms underlying pediatric BPD and may have utility as endophenotypes in molecular genetic studies of the condition.

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