Beauty and the Borderline

A Journey towards Integration

Finally, research proves BPD brains are wired to ‘feel it all’

Researchers at my own alma mater, the University of Toronto, pinpoint two key differences in the brain activity of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder, reports the NEA-BPD (you can find this article, and links to NEA-BPD’s main site, in my “Blogs about BPD” section below):

heightened subjective perception + insufficient regulation = stormy emotional life

mental illnessPhiladelphia, PA, January 15, 2013 – Originally, the label “borderline personality disorder” was applied to patients who were thought to represent a middle ground between patients with neurotic and psychotic disorders. Increasingly, though, this area of research has focused on the heightened emotional reactivity observed in patients carrying this diagnosis, as well as the high rates with which they also meet diagnostic criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder and mood disorders.

New research now published in Biological Psychiatry from Dr. Anthony Ruocco at the University of Toronto and his colleagues paints perhaps the sharpest picture we have so far of the patterns of brain activity which may underlie the intense and unstable emotional experiences associated with this diagnosis.

In their report, the investigators describe two critical brain underpinnings of emotion dysregulation in borderline personality disorder: heightened activity in brain circuits involved in the experience of negative emotions and reduced activation of brain circuits that normally suppress negative emotion once it is generated.

To accomplish this, they undertook a meta-analysis of previously published neuroimaging studies to examine dysfunctions underlying negative emotion processing in borderline personality disorder. A thorough literature search identified 11 relevant studies from which they pooled the results to further analyze, providing data on 154 patients with borderline personality disorder and 150 healthy control subjects.

Ruocco commented, “We found compelling evidence pointing to two interconnected neural systems which may subserve symptoms of emotion dysregulation in this disorder: the first, centered on specific limbic structures, which may reflect a heightened subjective perception of the intensity of negative emotions, and the second, comprised primarily of frontal brain regions, which may be inadequately recruited to appropriately regulate emotions.”

Importantly, reduced activity in a frontal area of the brain, called the subgenual anterior cingulate, may be unique to borderline personality disorder and could serve to differentiate it from other related conditions, such as recurrent major depression.

“This new report adds to the impression that people with borderline personality disorder are ‘set-up’ by their brains to have stormy emotional lives, although not necessarily unhappy or unproductive lives,” commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.

“Given that many of the most effective psychotherapies for borderline personality disorder work to improve emotion regulation skills, these findings could suggest that dysfunctions in critical frontal ‘control’ centers might be normalized after successful treatment,” concluded Ruocco.

The article is “Neural Correlates of Negative Emotionality in Borderline Personality Disorder: An Activation-Likelihood-Estimation Meta-Analysis” by Anthony C. Ruocco, Sathya Amirthavasagam, Lois W. Choi-Kain, and Shelley F. McMain (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.07.014). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 73, Issue 2 (January 15, 2013), published by Elsevier.


9 comments on “Finally, research proves BPD brains are wired to ‘feel it all’

  1. Living with BPD
    February 28, 2013

    Reblogged this on Living with BPD and commented:
    Finally !


  2. lala1966
    February 28, 2013

    thanks for the information


  3. Hawkruh
    February 28, 2013

    Good information! I will re-blog. Thanks!


  4. Hawkruh
    February 28, 2013
  5. prideinmadness
    February 28, 2013

    Can’t wait to have my brain scanned!


  6. prideinmadness
    February 28, 2013

    Reblogged this on Pride in Madness and commented:
    I’m ready for my brain scan!


  7. fearlessanalyst
    February 28, 2013

    I wouldn’t get too excited yet. It’s important to count up the number of times the word ‘may’ was used. Also ‘could suggest’ and so on. There is no causal relationship established here, just interesting speculation, and an indication for further research.
    The book “The Brain that Changes Itself” makes me wonder about exercises that could change the elements of the brain involved in BPD … And I also wonder how much more we’d know about the brain and emotions, etc. if we did as much research on those as we do on pharmaceuticals….
    …. The Party Pooper


  8. inbeautifulpiecessheis
    March 1, 2013

    Reblogged this on In beautiful pieces she is.


  9. Beauty Borderline
    March 5, 2013

    @fearlessanalyst: Of course correlation is not causality, but it is interesting that BPD finally has a unique physiological marker. In some sense, it is validating to have science verify that BPD patients experience emotion and emotion regulation differently.
    If DBT and other therapies can change those “habits” of the brain, and I believe they can, then I am am all for them.


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