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OBJECTIVES: Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has been widely used to identify state and trait markers of brain abnormalities associated with bipolar disorder (BD). However, the primary literature is composed of small-to-medium-sized studies, using diverse activation paradigms on variously characterized patient groups, which can be difficult to synthesize into a coherent account. This review aimed to synthesize current evidence from fMRI studies in midlife adults with BD and to investigate whether there is support for the theoretical models of the disorder. METHODS: We used voxel-based quantitative meta-analytic methods to combine primary data on anatomical coordinates of activation from 65 fMRI studies comparing normal volunteers (n = 1,074) and patients with BD (n = 1,040). RESULTS: Compared to normal volunteers, patients with BD underactivated the inferior frontal cortex (IFG) and putamen and overactivated limbic areas, including medial temporal structures (parahippocampal gyrus, hippocampus, and amygdala) and basal ganglia. Dividing studies into those using emotional and cognitive paradigms demonstrated that the IFG abnormalities were manifest during both cognitive and emotional processing, while increased limbic activation was mainly related to emotional processing. In further separate comparisons between healthy volunteers and patient subgroups in each clinical state, the IFG was underactive in manic but not in euthymic and depressed states. Limbic structures were not overactive in association with mood states, with the exception of increased amygdala activation in euthymic states when including region-of-interest studies. CONCLUSIONS: In summary, our results showed abnormal frontal-limbic activation in BD. There was attenuated activation of the IFG or ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which was consistent across emotional and cognitive tasks and particularly related to the state of mania, and enhanced limbic activation, which was elicited by emotional and not cognitive tasks, and not clearly related to mood states.

Original publication




Journal article


Bipolar Disord

Publication Date





1 - 15


Adult, Affect, Bipolar Disorder, Emotions, Female, Frontal Lobe, Humans, Limbic System, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Models, Theoretical