Bipolar Disorder Speeds Up Biological Aging

Posted on August 15, 2017

A recent study found a link between telomere length and the risk of getting bipolar disorder. Telomere length is an indicator of biological aging. Bipolar disorder often comes with age-related diseases.

People who have bipolar disorder experience extreme mood shifts. Their emotions range from feeling extremely happy to feelings of hopelessness. Bipolar disorder is associated with many age-related diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Hence, a group of researchers from King’s College London and the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City looked at telomeres, which are the parts of chromosomes that indicate how old an organism is.

Telomeres are found at the ends of DNA strands, acting as protective caps. Telomeres are usually shorter in older people, because a telomere becomes shorter each time a cell divides, until it can no longer do so. A person’s biological and chronological age can differ. Many factors, from genetics to the environment, can act on how fast a person ages biologically. Hence, two people with different biological ages can have the same chronological age. Individuals with schizophrenia, dementia and reduced memory function have been found to have shortened telomeres. Telomere length is also related with the structure of a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which plays a role in memory and mood regulation.

In this study, DNA samples were taken from patients with bipolar disorder, first-degree relatives and unrelated healthy individuals. Relatives were included as telomere length had previously been found to be heritable. Results found that telomere length was significantly shorter in the relatives than in healthy individuals. Lithium played a role in the length of telomeres for participants with bipolar disorder. Significantly shorter telomeres were not found in individuals who had taken lithium. However, those who had not taken it had the same shortened telomere length as their relatives. This suggests and supports previous findings that lithium helps reduce or stop the premature biological aging linked to bipolar disorder.

MRI scans were conducted to determine the relationship between hippocampus structure and telomere length. Results found an association between shortened telomeres and reduced hippocampal volume. Dr. Timothy Powell from King’s College London, one of the study’s authors, states that the results provide initial evidence that familial risk for bipolar disorder is linked with shorter telomeres. This may also explain why individuals with bipolar disorder have a greater risk of getting age-related diseases.

Dr. Powell also mentions that these findings create many new questions. For example, are people at risk for bipolar disorder genetically predisposed for faster biological aging, or are they more likely to participate in behaviours, like smoking, that increase the rate of aging? Co-senior author Dr. Sophia Frangou suggest that the results could be a pathway to research for interventions. For example, proteins that can protect against telomere shortening may be a novel treatment for bipolar disorder and individuals predisposed to it.

While there is still much area for research, the current research linking telomeres, premature biological aging and mental and physical health conditions provide useful and interesting information.


Source material from Medical News Today

Mental Health News