The twenty-first century is allowing medicine to reveal some long-held secrets of bipolar disorder thanks to technological advances. Today, medicine has the advantage of literally viewing the workings of the brain.

Because of these amazing new tools, we have found novel pathways and markers for diagnosis as well as the treatment of bipolar disorder. One such discovery arises from the study on bipolar disorder conducted by Husseini K. Manji, M.D., chief of the Laboratory of Molecular Pathophysiology at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which shows that bipolar disorder may actually occur due to abnormalities in something called 'neuronal plasticity cascades.' These are part of the complex machinery located inside the nerve cells regulating a variety of the body's processes.

Dr. Manji and his colleagues used animal and cellular models that demonstrated that disruptions in these pathways resulted in many of the major symptoms of bipolar disorder. In fact, he said, that these disruptions actually explained many other observations of bipolar disorder as well. This may provide physicians with a new method for treating the underlying cause of bipolar disorder, rather than just alleviating the various symptoms.

Another study -- this one conducted at the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine -- involved the still emerging role of brain imaging techniques in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder as well as other conditions in the field of psychiatry.

Mary Phillips, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the University, has identified specific patterns of abnormalities in the neural systems which underlie emotional processing and cognitive control that is found only in the brain of an individual affected with bipolar disorder.

Dr. Phillips, moreover, has shown how this imaging is used to identify biomarkers which can help determine which patients with bipolar disorder will respond to what treatments. Neuroimaging, as this is called, can also help medical experts predict which individuals genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder may actually develop symptoms.