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Ellen Leibenluft, M.D., Senior Investigator

Ellen Leibenluft, M.D. is Senior Investigator and Chief of the Section on Bipolar Spectrum Disorders in the Emotion and Development Branch, Mood and Anxiety Program, National Institute of Mental Health, and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine. Dr. Leibenluft received her B.A. from Yale University summa cum laude and her M.D. from Stanford University. After completing residency training at Georgetown University Hospital, she served on the faculty there as director of the psychiatric inpatient unit and day hospital. She came to the NIMH in 1989, and since that time has been conducting research on bipolar disorder. Her research focuses on the brain mechanisms involved in bipolar disorder in children and adolescents. Her work involves the use of cognitive neuroscience techniques and neuroimaging modalities, including functional MRI. In addition, since questions have been raised as to whether children with impairing irritability should be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Dr. Leibenluft conducts research on this question, including studies on the brain mechanisms mediating severe irritability in children.
Photo of Ellen Leibenluft, M.D., Senior Investigator


Research Interests:
While behavioral testing and fMRI are the core research techniques in the lab, we also use structural MRI, magnetoencephalography, and diffusion tensor imaging. An emerging focus is the integration of genotyping into our behavioral and imaging studies. In addition, we conduct pilot clinical trials of novel, mechanism-based treatments. Importantly, all of our research subjects receive careful clinical phenotyping and we strive to deliver state-of-the-art care.

The Section conducts clinical research on youth with bipolar disorder (BD), those at familial risk for BD, and those with severe, impairing irritability (severe mood dysregulation, SMD; Leibenluft et al, 2003). Our interest in SMD stems from the questions that have arisen as to whether such irritability should be considered to be a pediatric form of mania.

For each of our target populations, our goal is to elucidate the brain mechanisms mediating psychopathology in order to inform novel treatment approaches. To accomplish this, we employ an applied neuroscience approach i.e., we first use standardized behavioral paradigms to assess responses to emotion stimuli and related psychological functions (e.g., cognitive control, attentional processes) and then, when between-group differences are found, we use functional MRI (fMRI) to study the mediating neural circuitry. The Section takes a developmental approach, in that our work in youth at risk for BD includes children preschool age through adolescence, and we perform studies comparing adults and children with BD.

Clinical Protocols:
  • Characterization and Pathophysiology of Severe Mood and Behavioral Dysregulation in Children and Youth ( 02-M-0021 )
  • The phenomenology and neurophysiology of affective dysregulation in children and adolescents with bipolar disorder ( 00-M-0198 )
  • A controlled trial of serotonin reuptake inhibitors added to stimulant medication in youth with severe mood dysregulation ( 09-M-0034 )
  • Double-blind placebo-controlled trial of riluzole in pediatric bipolar disorder ( 09-M-0042 )

Selected Recent Publications:
  • Leibenluft E (2011) Severe mood dysregulation, irritability, and the diagnostic boundaries of bipolar disorder in youths, Am J Psychiatry 168, 129-142. Full Text/Abstract

  • Brotman MA, Rich BA, Guyer AE, Lunsford JR, Horsey SE, Reising MM, Thomas LA, Fromm SJ, Towbin K, Pine DS, Leibenluft E (2010) Amygdala activation during emotion processing of neutral faces in children with severe mood dysregulation versus ADHD or bipolar disorder, Am J Psychiatry 167, 61-69. Full Text/Abstract

  • Baroni A, Lunsford JR, Luckenbaugh DA, Towbin KE, Leibenluft E (2009) The assessment of bipolar disorder in children and adolescents, J Child Psychology and Psychiatry 50, 203-215. Full Text/Abstract

  • Brotman MA, Guyer AE, Lawson ES, Horsey SE, Rich BA, Dickstein DP, Pine DS, Leibenluft E. (2008) Facial emotion labeling deficits in children and adolescents at risk for bipolar disorder, Am J Psychiatry 165, 385-389. Full Text/Abstract

  • Leibenluft E, Rich BA, Vinton DT, Nelson EE, Fromm SJ, Berghorst LH, Joshi P, Robb A, Schachar RJ, Dickstein DP, McClure EB, Pine DS (2007) Neural circuitry engaged during unsuccessful motor inhibition in pediatric bipolar disorder vs. controls, Am J Psychiatry 164, 309-317. Full Text/Abstract

  • Dickstein DP, Nelson EE, McClure EB, Grimley ME, Knopf LV, Brotman MA, Rich BA, Pine DS, Leibenluft, E (2007) Cognitive flexibility in phenotypes of pediatric bipolar disorder, J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 46, 341-355. Full Text/Abstract

  • Rich BA, Schmajuk M, Perez-Edgar KE, Fox NA, Pine DS, Leibenluft E (2007) Frustration elicits different psychophysiological and behavioral responses in pediatric bipolar disorder and severe mood dysregulation, Am J Psychiatry 164, 309-317. Full Text/Abstract

All Selected Publications

Contact Information:

Dr. Ellen Leibenluft
Section on Bipolar Spectrum Disorders
Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, NIMH
Building 15K -MSC 2670
Bethesda, MD 20892-2670

Telephone: (301) 496-9435 (office), (301) 496-9435 (laboratory), (301) 402-6100 (fax)


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