Greater body mass index is associated with reduced frontal cortical volumes among adolescents with bipolar disorder.
Background: Higher body mass index (BMI) and obesity is common among youth with bipolar disorder (BD) and is associated with greater psychiatric illness severity, including suicidality. Obesity has been associated with frontal, temporal and subcortical volumetric reductions in adults with BD. We examined the neurostructural correlates of BMI in adolescents early in their course of BD.
Methods: We processed T1-weighted images of adolescents with BD and psychiatrically healthy controls using FreeSurfer to derive a priori region of interest (ROI) volumes/cortical thickness for the frontal lobe (FL), prefrontal cortex (PFC) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) as well as volumes for the amygdala and hippocampus. General linear models assessed the association between BMI and the ROIs, controlling for age, sex and intracranial volume. We also conducted exploratory within-BD group and whole brain vertex-wise analyses.
Results: We included 40 adolescents with BD and 48 controls in our analyses. In addition to a main effect of BMI on the ROIs, there were significant diagnosis × BMI interaction effects on FL volumes. In the BD group only, BMI was negatively associated with FL, OFC and PFC cortical thickness. Whole brain analysis of BMI-volume correlations revealed 2 significant interaction clusters: 1 in the medial OFC and 1 in the caudal anterior cingulate cortex, with BD showing a stronger negative correlation.
Limitations: Reliance on BMI rather than a more nuanced measure of obesity may have influenced the findings.
Conclusion: Our results suggest that elevated BMI among adolescents with BD is associated with frontal neurostructural differences that are not observed in controls. Prospective studies examining the direction of the observed associations and the effect of BMI optimization on brain structure in adolescents with BD are warranted.