Bipolar Thoughts

Excitable Neurology

So there is a new study published out of the Salk Institute* that is continuing and deepening other research that came out this year that is proving that bipolar affects the brain at the cellular level.

*The Salk Institute in La Jolla, California is my favorite piece of institutional/ academic architecture. It was designed by one of my favorite architects, Louis Kahn. It is very much a Kahn building in that it makes great use of unfinished building material, here being travertine, concrete, and teak. He actually developed a type of concrete called “pozzuolanic”, which had not been used since the Romans built the Coliseum. The courtyard view of the ocean is unparalleled in modern architecture. You can and absolutely should view it here:

Basically they tested neurons from bipolar and non-bipolar people (it is more complicated than that, but, c’mon, you read this shit for free) and found that the neurons of bipolars are much more easily excitable and produce longer stimulation effects than healthy neurons. I cited a study a couple of months ago that claimed that bipolar brains were much more adept at transferring information quickly, based on an excess of fluids that aide in transmission, this probably is the reason why. So basically, bipolar brains are more sensitive to stimulus.

This might explain why we react so differently than healthy people in normal situations. It might explain why sleep or daylight or sugar or caffeine or alcohol can have such a profound effect on us. It might explain why we can have racing thoughts, or how we can dwell on certain thoughts for so long. It might explain how our highs are higher and our lows are lower. It might explain obsessions, anxiety, agitation, mania!

Doesn’t this all sound slightly similar to autism? I know next to nothing about that disease, and I haven’t yet read anything relating these findings to autism, or bipolar to autism. But it does sound like it a bit, right? At least a little.

The study did not venture a guess as to why this was happening, and nothing has been offered up as a treatment yet either. However, they did find that when they grew these bipolar cells in lithium, they tended to slow down and not be as excitable, which is interesting.

I feel like we are coming upon the reason the disease exists. And I don’t think a treatment, or maybe even a cure, is far behind once they understand the mechanism causing the disease. The one thing that is difficult is that it is all brain stuff, and it is really hard to work on someone’s brain while they are still using it. But any movement in the right direction I am excited about. One of the biggest barriers to treating brain conditions is the blood brain barrier. However, just this week a report was published suggesting researchers had finally broken that barrier. I will talk more about this in its own essay soon.

Hopefully one day we won’t have to suffer any more.