Neuropsychological studies of bipolar disorder reveal deficits in a variety of domains, including affective processing, memory, and sustained attention. These findings are difficult to interpret due to the potential confounding effects of mood-stabilizing medications. The present study aims to compare the cognitive performance of medicated and unmedicated subjects with bipolar depression to healthy control subjects.
Unmedicated subjects with bipolar depression (UBD, n = 32), subjects with bipolar depression on therapeutic doses of lithium or valproic acid (MBD, n = 33), and healthy control subjects (HC, n = 52) performed neuropsychological tasks measuring affective processing, visual memory, and sustained attention. Performance measures were covaried with age and mood ratings, where applicable.
With regard to affective processing, the MBD group exhibited greater response latency than the UBD and HC groups. For the same task, the MBD group made more omission errors during the happy condition than in the sad condition. On a task of sustained attention, the MBD group made more errors than the HC group. There were no significant group differences on measures of visual memory.
Deficits in affective processing were found in the medicated group, while unmedicated subjects appear to be unaffected. In particular, the MBD group made more errors during happy conditions, indicating a potential attentional bias in subjects with bipolar depression on mood-stabilizing medications. The present study also implicates impairment in sustained attention for medicated subjects with bipolar disorder, particularly those with the type II variety.