Elevated left mid-frontal cortical activity prospectively predicts conversion to bipolar I disorder

Robin Nusslock, Lauren B. Alloy, Kim Goldstein, Eddie Harmon-Jones, Snezana Urosevic, Lyn Y. Abramson

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51 Scopus citations


Bipolar disorder is characterized by a hypersensitivity to reward-relevant cues and a propensity to experience an excessive increase in approach-related affect, which may be reflected in hypo/manic symptoms. The present study examined the relationship between relative left-frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) activity, a proposed neurophysiological index of approach-system sensitivity and approach/reward-related affect, and bipolar course and state-related variables. Fifty-eight individuals with cyclothymia or bipolar II disorder and 59 healthy control participants with no affective psychopathology completed resting EEG recordings. Alpha power was obtained and asymmetry indices computed for homologous electrodes. Bipolar spectrum participants were classified as being in a major/minor depressive episode, a hypomanic episode, or a euthymic/ remitted state at EEG recording. Participants were then followed prospectively for an average 4.7-year follow-up period with diagnostic interview assessments every 4 months. Sixteen bipolar spectrum participants converted to bipolar I disorder during follow-up. Consistent with hypotheses, elevated relative left-frontal EEG activity at baseline (a) prospectively predicted a greater likelihood of converting from cyclothymia or bipolar II disorder to bipolar I disorder over the 4.7-year follow-up period, (b) was associated with an earlier age-of-onset of first bipolar spectrum episode, and (c) was significantly elevated in bipolar spectrum individuals in a hypomanic episode at EEG recording. This is the first study to our knowledge to identify a neurophysiological marker that prospectively predicts conversion to bipolar I disorder. The fact that unipolar depression is characterized by decreased relative left-frontal EEG activity suggests that unipolar depression and vulnerability to hypo/mania may be characterized by different profiles of frontal EEG asymmetry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)592-601
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of abnormal psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2012


  • Biomarker
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eeg
  • Hypo/mania
  • Reward


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