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Change in prefrontal activity and executive functions after action-based cognitive remediation in bipolar disorder: a randomized controlled trial

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Cognitive impairment is prevalent in bipolar disorder (BD) but treatments with pro-cognitive effects are lacking. Insight concerning the neurocircuitry of cognitive improvement could provide a biomarker for pro-cognitive effects to advance treatment development. The dorsal prefrontal cortex (dPFC) is a promising region for such treatment target engagement. The aim of this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study was to examine the effects of action-based cognitive remediation (ABCR) on early change in the dPFC blood-oxygen-level-dependent response in patients with BD in remission, and whether the observed neural change predicted improved executive functions following 10 weeks of treatment. Forty-five participants with remitted BD (ABCR: n = 26, control treatment: n = 19) completed a spatial n-back working memory task during fMRI and executive function tasks outside the scanner before and after two weeks of ABCR/control treatment, and an additional assessment of executive function at treatment completion. Thirty-four healthy controls underwent a single fMRI and executive function assessment for baseline comparisons. We found an early reversal of pretreatment hypo-activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) following ABCR vs. control during both high-load (2-back > 1-back) working memory (WM) (F(1,43) = 5.69, p = 0.02, η2 = 0.12) and general WM (2-back > 0-back) (F(1,43) = 5.61, p = 0.02, η2 = 0.12). This dlPFC activity increase predicted improved executive functions at treatment completion (high-load WM: B = -0.45, p = 0.01, general WM: B = -0.41, p < 0.01), independent of changes in subsyndromal symptoms. In conclusion, early dPFC increase may provide a neurocircuitry-based biomarker for pro-cognitive effects. Future cognition trials should include fMRI assessments to confirm the validity of this putative biomarker model across disorders with cognitive impairment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalNeuropsychopharmacology
Volume46
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1113-1121
Number of pages9
ISSN0893-133X
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2021

ID: 61455916