Reward Mechanisms

Principal Investigator
Alessandra Passarotti, PhD

The central focus of this study is to determine the reward mechanisms, independently and at the interface with response inhibition, in 12-18 year-old euthymic adolescents with bipolar disorder (BD) type I, relative to healthy controls (HC). We wish to determine the neurobiological mechanisms responsible for impulsivity and risky behavior in pediatric bipolar disorder (PBD). Our design will allow us to determine the role of prefrontal cortex (PFC) and ventral striatum in reward circuitry, and PFC and dorsal striatum in response inhibition circuitry, and how these circuitries interact in PBD relative to HC. A few preliminary studies have illustrated altered responses to reward with increased levels of frustration in PBD, and our previous studies have set the bases for further investigating inhibitory control deficits in PBD. However, there are no published studies looking concurrently at the neurobiological mechanisms underlying reward processing, behavior control and impulsivity in PBD. We will test the hypothesis that dysregulation of regions within these circuits contributes to maladaptive and impulsive behavior in PBD.

In addition, we will test a group of age-matched Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) patients. Children with PBD and ADHD are often misdiagnosed due to overlapping clinical symptoms, and receive inappropriate treatment that can worsen the pathology. Patients with PBD, if not treated accurately, experience high rates of relapse, poor recovery and are at increased risk for suicide. Tragically, PBD is frequently misdiagnosed by clinicians, resulting in inappropriate treatment with stimulant medication as a first line agent with worsening of the disorder. Similarly, patients with ADHD have severe cognitive impairment which may further deteriorate with inappropriate medication. Characterizing these disorders early on to facilitate early recognition and intervention will have significant public health impact.

FUNDING: 2010 NARSAD Young Investigator Award


The Brain Center and the clinic is a part of the Pediatric Mood Disorders Program, The Colbeth Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic, the Institute for Juvenile Research, and the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


1747 West Roosevelt Road
Suite 155, M/C 747
Chicago, IL 60608
Phone: (312) 996-7723
Fax: (312) 413-0063


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