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Michèle WESSA"Neural correlates of emotional processing: a trait and vulnerability marker for bipolar disorder? "

Abstract :


Bipolar disorder is characterized by increased emotional reactivity and reward sensitivity.
Further, impaired regulation of these heightened emotional responses has been supposed to be one important characteristic of the disease. These assumptions are based on clinical observations but also on neurobiological models of bipolar disorder, proposing a hyper-reactive limbic system in response to primary emotional cues and positive reinforcers as well as an inefficient inhibitory feedback of prefrontal structures on these limbic brain regions. So far, changes in the neural networks underlying reward processing and emotion regulation have only been scarcely investigated in patients with bipolar disorder. Further, it is not clear, if the hypothesized alterations in reward processing and emotion regulation in bipolar disorder represent a specific disease or a vulnerability marker or both. In several studies we therefore investigated the neural underpinnings of reward processing and emotion regulation through reappraisal and distraction in patients with bipolar-I disorder, in patient with unipolar depression, in unaffected first-degree relatives of patients with bipolar disorder and in healthy carriers of genetic risk variants for bipolar disorder. We analyzed functional activation patterns and functional connectivity associated with reward processing and the emotion regulation strategies reappraisal and distraction. Furthermore, we assessed white matter integrity using Diffusion Tensor Imaging in order to delineate potential modifications of structural connectivity in the investigated neural networks. 
Our results provide first evidence that increased reward sensitivity and inefficient emotion regulation are accompanied by functional and structural alterations in an orbitofrontal-limbic network and that these alterations represent a disease and vulnerability marker for bipolar disorder.

Selected publications

Kanske, P. Heissler, J. Schönfelder, S. & Wessa, M. (2012). Neural correlates of emotion regulation deficits in remitted depression: The influence of regulation strategy, habitual regulation use, and emotional valence. Neuroimage, 61, 686-693
Wessa, M., Heissler, J., Schönfelder, S. & Kanske, P. (2012). Goal-directed behavior under emotional distraction is preserved by enhanced task-specific activation. Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 2012 Feb 1. [Epub ahead of print]
Linke, J., King, A.V., Rietschel, M., Strohmaier, J., Hennerici, M.G., Gass, A., Meyer-Lindenberg, A. & Wessa, M. (2012). Increased medial orbitofrontal and amygdala activation: evidence for a systems-level endophenotype of bipolar I disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 169, 316-325.
King, A. V., Linke, J., Gass, A., Hennerici, M. G., Tost, H., Poupon, C. & Wessa, M. (2012). Microstructure of a three-way anatomical network predicts individual differences in response inhibition: A tractography study. Neuroimage, 59, 1949-1959.
Linke, J., Witt, S. H., King, A. V., Nieratschker, V., Poupon, C., Gass, A., Hennerici, M. G., Rietschel, M. & Wessa, M. (2012). Genome-wide supported risk variant for bipolar disorder alters anatomical connectivity in the human brain. Neuroimage, 59, 3288-3296.
Houenou, J., Frommberger, J., Carde, S., Glasbrenner, M., Diener, C., Leboyer, M. & Wessa, M. (2011). Neuroimaging-based markers of bipolar disorder: Evidence from two meta-analyses. Journal of Affective Disorders, 132, 344-355.
Kanske, P., Heissler, J., Schönfelder, S. & Wessa, M. (2011). How to regulate emotion? Neural networks for reappraisal and distraction. Cerebral Cortex, 21, 1379-1388. (21 ISI)


Book : Trauma and Memory: sous la direction d'Herta Floret de Michele Wessa. Nov 2010:
In the last decade, theories on the development and maintenance of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have highlighted the important role of changes in the trauma memory, in that traumatic memories seem to be qualitively different from other, nontraumatic memories. Deficits in trauma memory have been postulated but not always demonstrated. Some recent research suggests that alterations of traumatic memories go along with neurobiological changes and that these changes in patients with PTSD also affect general memory functions. In addition, empirical research on learning processes in PTSD patients, such as cue and context conditioning as well as extinction memory has advanced the theoretical understanding of the development and maintenance of PTSD as well as therapeutic strategies. In that regard, pharmacological interventions (e.g., cognitive enhancers) that influence extinction memory have been suggested to be a fruitful route to explore in PTSD therapy. In addition to PTSD, other consequences of traumatic experiences such as amnesia and personality disorders have been investigated from both a neurobiological and a psychological perspective.

Scientific focus :

Area of specialisation
Clinical psychology, neuroscience


Research interests
Bipolar disorders
Posttraumatic stress disorder
Neural correlates of emotional processing
Anatomical and functional imaging of psychological disorders

Georges Di Scala et Colette Fabrigoule