Background: A paradigm that involves cognitive assessment of monozygotic (MZ) twins discordant for a neuropsychiatric disorder (here bipolar illness) allows for the examination of both disease-specific impairments (in the comparison of affected to unaffected twins) and risk factors (in the comparison of unaffected twins to normal twins). Methods: Neuropsychological functions were evaluated in seven MZ twin pairs discordant for bipolar illness and seven pairs of normal MZ twins in an attempt to highlight cognitive abilities associated with manifestations of disease and genetic risk factors. At the time of testing, 3 of the affected twins were euthymic, 2 had depressive symptoms, and 2 had manic symptoms; all were receiving medication. All twins receive neuropsychological tests to evaluate intelligence, attention, visuospatial skills, language, learning and memory, and problem solving. Results: Statistical analyses revealed that the affected twins were significantly impaired as compared to the unaffected (and normal) twins on some measures of visuospatial functioning and some verbal memory measures. In contrast to a sample of MZ twins discordant for schizophrenia studied previously, the cognitive impairments we observed in bipolar twins were mild in nature and fairly circumscribed. The unaffected twins performed significantly worse than normal controls on a Brown-Petersen memory task, verbal list learning, and overall Wechsler Memory Quotient. Conclusions: These data suggest that while some visuospatial deficits and verbal memory deficits may be features of bipolar disorder related to disease parameters, mild attenuations in overall memory or retrieval function may be related to genetic factors associated with the illness.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biological Psychiatry