Bipolar Disorder: The exciting and comforting brain neuron connection

What causes bipolar disorder

All those years ago, struggling with anxiety, panic, and depression. Understanding the anatomy and physiology of what my mind – my body – were up to was comforting. Still is. If you’re living with bipolar disorder, perhaps you feel the same.

…it’s possible that this hyperexcitability becomes too much for the cell to handle and it crashes into a less excitable state. That could signal the shift between the depression and mania that patients experience.

“Knowledge is power.” Often said casually; however, when it comes to what ails us, there’s really a lot to it.

They were hard days. And one of my few comforts was learning about what my brain and body were up to.

Not only did I find it fascinating, what I discovered assured me I wasn’t suffering from some yet to be encountered neurological disorder.

Yes, it still provides comfort – and relief.

Let’s take a look at some new research and see if it can provide a measure of the same for those wrestling with bipolar disorder…

Bipolar disorder and sensitive brain neurons

A new study from a Salk Institute for Biological Studies research team is one of the first to reveal the connection between bipolar disorder (BD) and neurons in the brain. And the gang found that the neurons of those with BD are way above average in sensitivity to stimuli.

As part of their work, the researchers wanted to determine why some patients respond to lithium, while others don’t.

The study results were published last month in the journal, Nature.

From Salk genetics lab professor and senior study author Rusty Gage…

Researchers hadn’t all agreed that there was a cellular cause to bipolar disorder. So our study is important validation that the cells of these patients really are different.

This work is huge. If you’re living with BD, you know it can be a treatment nightmare. I mean, it’s a meds crapshoot. Lithium, atypical antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants – who knows?

It’s time to develop answers.

Searching for the cause of bipolar disorder

In endeavoring to get to the very foundation of the cause(s) of BD, Gage and team collected skin cells from six patients with the disorder. And they moved on to reprogramming the cells to become stem cells, and coaxed them to develop into neurons.

And then it was on to comparing them to those of people who had never been diagnosed with BD.

The results? According to study first author Jerome Mertens…

Neurons are normally activated by a stimuli and respond. The cells we have from all six patients are much more sensitive in that you don’t need to activate them very strongly to see a response.

And, by the way, the power-supplying mitochondria inside the cells were more active as well.

Lithium and bipolar disorder

Of the six study patients, three had responded well to lithium. It did nothing for the remaining three. So now it was about determining how the patients’ cells actually reacted to lithium.

To do this, the study team let some of the neurons grow in liquid containing lithium and re-measured how sensitive the cells were.

Go figure, though neurons from both groups sure seemed identical – and equally sensitive – in the initial tests, they behaved differently when exposed to the lithium.

Seems the cells from the lithium-responding patients showed weakened excitability after growing in the lithium. And it follows that the cells from the patients who hadn’t been helped by lithium remained hyperexcitable.

Co-author John Kelsoe explains…

The stem cell-derived neurons were three to four times more electrically active than control cells and tended to burn themselves out. This was reversed by treatment with lithium, but only in cells that came from patients who had responded to lithium.

As it turns out, the team wasn’t able to account for why lithium works for some patients and not for others. However, the study results sre a great starting point for determining differences between cells.

And, certainly, the bipolar neurons create a platform from which more in-depth BD questions can be asked – and answered.

The study takeaway

Okay, great – what’s all this to someone with BD? From Mertens…

Now that we have neurons that show differences in excitability, we can use these to screen for better drugs. If a new drug, for instance, reverses the hyperexcitability at the cellular level, it would likely treat bipolar disorder in patients.

Next, Gage and Martens plan to follow the affected cells for longer periods of time to see whether the hyperexcitability they measured is only an initial manic stage of neurons’ lives, or is longer-lasting.

And that’s big, because according to Gage…

After a few months, it’s possible that this hyperexcitability becomes too much for the cell to handle and it crashes into a less excitable state. That could signal the shift between the depression and mania that patients experience.

Impressive work and great possibilities, don’t you think?

Fueling hope

If you have bipolar disorder, does this information provide even a small amount of comfort and/or relief?

I know it doesn’t bring an immediate lessening of symptoms or help you avoid the meds crapshoot. But at least it sets the table for more work on the cause of bipolar disorder and its treatment.

Coming across information like this has always meant a lot to me – and fuels hope. Maybe you feel the same.

Would you like to read more Chipur mood and anxiety disorder info and inspirations articles? Do the titles.

  • npeden November 27, 2015, 12:29 am

    late turkey day rant. bipolar! oh, no!

    i am not sure what my take away is from this is, bill.

    so some of us are uniquely different and sensitive? ok. i can appreciate that. but as any highly sensitive person knows, it is a high maintenance gift and, i agree, lithium might help.

    cells communicate via h20. lithium is an elemental mineral so i will just say it conducts energy/electricity via water. energy which, i think, is mainly generated by mitochondria this way, ala redox signaling, which i won’t go into now, but that is what i feel you are actually talkin bout, bill. your antennae are up and aware.

    did you know lithium is an antioxidant? i use antioxidants to reduce my anxiety. so bingo. another piece.

    you make no reference to forms of lithium. i think one can drink pink salt and obtain lithium (check this, not sure). lithium hurts the thyroid; pink salt supports the thyroid…

    in the disease mthfr, we use lithium to make b12, which is strongly antidepressant, more powerful, not to reduce anxiety. we also drink pink slt water.

    but they do go hand on hand. as an antioxidant lithium reduces my glutamate allowing me to relax a bit, be less anxious. but the antidepressant effect is just as important especially depending on your form of bipolarity. i love my form of b12 and i know why.

    also, please differentiate between elemental lithium which is dosed in minute amounts and psych lithium, which has hi side effects. very big difference. and, how about those who live near and drink naturally occurring lithium springs? are they less bipolar? i bet they are.

    and as you know and infer here, bipolar can well be genetic. maybe i should say it is genetic/epigenetic, that the genes exist and some thing turns them on, “negatively. ” that is why some respond to lithium and some do not. and why in mthfr, other neuro transmitter mutations, and all mutation treatments, we say start low and go slow. so to see if 5 mg. of elemental lithium helps, go to the health food store and try it for a day or two. that is all it should take if you are nutritionally deficient. anything more, see a doc, please. cheap. safe. but do see a doc if you do not feel better. i mean that. unlike psych meds, you should notice very easily and soon. doubt me? do your research first. and this is ill white’s forum; he can say whatever he needs to about my recommending this. i say it is safe.

    not sure what excites you here, bill. that it is a simple element that differs? well, yes, that is pretty revolutionary if you do not combine it with a lot of questionable extras as psych meds do. as mthfr 677 homo, i am very sensitive to these. perhaps the blessing of this disease and maybe what you are trying to get at? that our sensitivity is a blessing?

    so, some of us may be highly sensitive in regions of our brains. is that what are you implying here?
    and lithium may help? beyond what i just said, i do not understand.

    yes, some are more sensitive. yes, lithium may calm some of this sensitivity. totally agree. again, i do not understand what your excitement is about. is it that you find it amazing that an essential element, for some, is not present for some with especially sensitive brains? while i feel we may agree i miss citations to what you are referring to and a sense of the forms of lithium. sorry, my social defience is up and i have taken my lithium. must be some other disease.

    i just don’t get what is so exciting here. being highly sensitive as a gift? that none of this was known when you were so mired in your own disease? that we all are our own best doctors? that some may lack what may be an essential element?

    rambling on and i agree, with some caveats. the forms of lithium and the impact on personal genetics. things you actually said a bit. thanks, bill.

    note: my comments are not cited in the main as they are based on my experience, thus anectodal .

  • Greg Marlow September 16, 2017, 1:27 pm

    I was able to cure my bipolar disorder with calcium and omega_3 supplements. The omega_3 raises blood calcium levels and calcium suppress neuronal excitability. Lithium also raises blood calcium levels and that may be how it actually works.

    • Chipur September 16, 2017, 9:45 pm

      I’ve noticed similar, if not exactly the same, comments from you on other psych sites. “Cure” your bipolar disorder – with calcium and omega 3 supplements? Man, I could only hope for you it’s true. But I’m not buying. What’s your angle, Greg?

      • Greg Marlow September 18, 2017, 3:54 am

        I’m posting on many websites so that someone with the right credentials will do an experiment to verify that this technique can help more than just me. Do you find something that doesn’t make sense with my comments?

      • Chipur September 18, 2017, 11:39 am

        If the “technique” helps you, I’m sure it can help others. So you’ve conducted an experiment, you being the subject. However, keep in mind that bipolarity, I believe, is a spectrum disorder. And unfortunately, medicinal intervention remains a per case crap-shoot.

        The only issue I have with your original comment is use of the word “cure.” Hey, if you consider yourself to be cured of bipolar disorder, I’m thrilled for you, Greg. In general, when I see “cure” attached to a mood or anxiety disorder, alarms go off in my head – especially if someone’s trying to sell a product or service.

        Thanks for your participation…

      • Greg Marlow October 19, 2017, 1:04 pm

        It looks like I have hypoparathyroidism with psychiatric symptoms.

      • Chipur October 19, 2017, 9:09 pm

        Thanks for the update, Greg. So the mood symptoms are manifestations of the p’thyroid condition? Did a quick web search. Quite a bit of info available.