Neurocognitive functioning in euthymic patients with bipolar disorder and unaffected relatives: A review of the literature

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Neurocognitive deficits are present in bipolar disorder (BD) patients and their unaffected (nonbipolar) relatives, but it is not clear which domains are most often impaired and the extent of the impairment resulting from shared genetic factors. In this literature review, we address these issues and identify specific neurocognitive tasks most sensitive to cognitive deficits in patients and unaffected relatives.


We conducted a systematic review in Web of Science, PubMed/Medline and PsycINFO databases.


Fifty-one articles assessing cognitive functioning in BD patients (23 studies) and unaffected relatives (28 studies) were examined. Patients and, less so, relatives show impairments in attention, processing speed, verbal learning/memory, and verbal fluency.


Studies were more likely to find impairment in patients than relatives, suggesting that some neurocognitive deficits may be a result of the illness itself and/or its treatment. However, small sample sizes, differences among relatives studied (e.g., relatedness, diagnostic status, age), and differences in assessment instruments may contribute to inconsistencies in reported neurocognitive performance among relatives. Additional studies addressing these issues are needed.

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