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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What is the possible relationship between mitochondrial diseases and bipolar disorder?

    I have seen research articles online examining the possibility of bipolar disorder being a mitochondrial disease. Is this true? What is the evidence/conclusions?
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    The Australian Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (AMDF) was founded in 2009 with three goals in mind:- To fund research into mitochondrial disease- To support sufferers of … View Profile

    The relationship between bipolar disorder and mito is two way.  Mito is a very complex multisytem disorder and amongst its many presentations and symptoms are a number of pyschiatric conditions including bipolar disorder.  However, it does not present alone in mito but as part of an array of at least two or three other sytems as well. For more information on that you can read about mito and its symptoms on our AMDF website or USA websites like mitoaction and the UMDF.
    As for bipolar disorder being a mitochondrial illness, that has come from many studies trying to examine how and why a person might develop bipolar disorder. There is now overwhelming evidence that mitochondrial dyfunction is playing a role in mood disorders. However, there is still a sizeable gap to fill to say if it is a mitochondrial disease. What evidence has shown is that the mitochondria are not working properly but the probelm is that we don't know exactly why.
    In mitochondrial “disease”, the mitochondria are not working properly due to a genetic hiccup since the person has been first developing as an embryo. In mitochondrial “dysfunction” we are saying that the mitochondria are sick and not working properly but we don't know at what point they started to misbehave or what triggered it. Various genetic changes have been implicated but they could have been normal to start with then affected by factors in the environment, an illness or stress, or even later by the bipolar medications themselves. There has been no specific gene found to date that suggests the person had it from the beginning as an embryo and hence called a mitochondrial disease.
    There is a great deal we don't understand about genetics and what most of our genes do. Research is continuing into this area of course and what has triggered this mitochondrial dysfunction in mood disorders. If a specific gene or genes are found as the original and sole cause, then these mood disorders may become classified as mitochondrial disease.

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    My research interests include immunology and the mechanisms of amyloid formation. The latter has implications for people who are dealing with Alzheimer's Disease, Parkinson's Disease … View Profile

    With respect, I disagree with this statement:

    “There is now **overwhelming evidence** that mitochondrial dysfunction is playing a role in mood disorders.” The emphasis is mine.

    To quote from the Abstract of the most recent review of this field that I can find (again, the emphases are mine):

    “The current literature **suggests** that mitochondrial dysfunction and mitochondrial genetic variations **may** play an important role in psychiatric disorders, **but additional methodologically rigorous and adequately powered studies are needed before definitive conclusions can be drawn.**”


    Psychiatric disorders in general and mood disorders in particular are likely to be multi-factorial - how important abnormalities of mitochondrial function may be in them remains to be seen.

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