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OBJECTIVES: Bipolar disorder (BP) is a debilitating psychiatric disease that is not well understood. Previous diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) studies of BP patients found prominent microstructural white matter (WM) abnormalities of reduced fractional anisotropy (FA). Because FA is a nonspecific measure, relating these abnormalities to a specific pathology is difficult. Here, dMRI specificity was increased by free water (FW) imaging, which allows identification of changes in extracellular space (FW) from neuronal tissue (fractional anisotropy of tissue [FA-t]). Previous studies identified increased FW in early schizophrenia (SZ) stages which was replaced by widespread decreased FA-t in chronic stages. This is the first analysis utilizing this method to compare BP patients and controls. METHODS: 3 Tesla diffusion weighted imaging (3T DWI) data were acquired for 17 chronic BP and 28 healthy control (HC) participants at Oxford University. Tract-based spatial statistics was utilized to generate a WM skeleton. FW imaging deconstructed the diffusion signal into extracellular FW and tissue FA-t maps. These maps were projected onto the skeleton and FA, FA-t, and FW were compared between groups. RESULTS: We found significantly lower FA in BP patients when compared to HC in areas that overlapped with extensive FW increases. There were no FA-t differences. CONCLUSIONS: Our study suggests that chronic BP shows similar WM changes to early SZ, suggesting that extracellular FW increases could be a transient indication of recent psychotic episodes. Since FW increase in SZ has been suggested to be related to neuroinflammation, we theorize that neuroinflammation might be a shared pathology between chronic BP and early SZ.

Original publication




Journal article


Bipolar Disord

Publication Date





523 - 530


bipolar disorder, diffusion magnetic resonance imaging, free water imaging, Adult, Anisotropy, Bipolar Disorder, Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Diffusion Tensor Imaging, Extracellular Space, Female, Humans, Male, Schizophrenia, Water, White Matter, Young Adult