Bipolar disorder is characterized by impaired decision-making captured in impulsivity and risk-taking. We sought to determine whether this is driven by a failure to effectively weight the lower-order goal of obtaining a strongly desired reward in relation to higher-order goals, and how this relates to trait impulsivity and risk-taking. We hypothesized that in bipolar disorder the weighting of valuation signals converging on ventromedial prefrontal cortex are more heavily weighted towards ventral striatum inputs (lower-order), with less weighting of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex inputs (higher-order). Twenty euthymic patients with bipolar disorder not in receipt of antipsychotic medication and 20 case-matched controls performed a roulette task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Activity in response to high-probability (‘safe’) and low-probability (‘risky’) prospects was measured during both anticipation, and outcome. In control subjects, anticipatory and outcome-locked activity in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was greater for safe than risky reward prospects. The bipolar disorder group showed the opposite pattern with preferential response to risky rewards. This group also showed increased anticipatory and outcome-locked activity in ventral striatum in response to rewards. In control subjects, however, ventromedial prefrontal activation was positively associated with both ventral striatum and dorsolateral prefrontal activity; patients evidenced a strong positive association with ventral striatum, but a negative association with dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Response to high-probability rewards in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was inversely associated with trait impulsivity and risk-taking in the bipolar disorder group. Our findings suggest that clinically impulsive and risky decision-making are related to subjective valuation that is biased towards lower-order preference, with diminished integration of higher-order goals. The findings extend a functional neuroanatomical account of disorders characterized by clinically impulsive decision-making, and provide targets for evaluating interventions that foster self-control.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/), which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.