Here's the research:
Using new approaches, an interdisciplinary team of scientists at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City has gained a view of activity in key brain areas associated with a core difficulty in patients with borderline personality disorder—shedding new light on this serious psychiatric condition.
"It's early days yet, but the work is pinpointing functional differences in the neurobiology of healthy people versus individuals with the disorder as they attempt to control their behavior in a negative emotional context. Such initial insights can help provide a foundation for better, more targeted therapies down the line," explains lead researcher Dr. David A. Silbersweig, the Stephen P. Tobin and Dr. Arnold M. Cooper Professor of Psychiatry and Professor of Neurology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and attending psychiatrist and neurologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Borderline personality disorder is a devastating mental illness that affects between 1 to 2 percent of Americans, causing untold disruption of patients' lives and relationships. Nevertheless, its underlying biology is not very well understood. Hallmarks of the illness include impulsivity, emotional instability, interpersonal difficulties, and a preponderance of negative emotions such as anger—all of which may encourage or be associated with substance abuse, self-destructive behaviors and even suicide.
But what was really interesting was what showed up on fMRI.
"We confirmed that discrete parts of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex and the medial orbitofrontal cortex areas—were relatively less active in patients versus controls," Dr. Silbersweig says. "These areas are thought to be key to facilitating behavioral inhibition under emotional circumstances, so if they are underperforming that could contribute to the disinhibition one so often sees with borderline personality disorder."
Here are the conclusions:
"The more that this type of work gets done, the more people will understand that mental illness is not the patient's fault—that there are circuits in the brain that control these functions in humans and that these disorders are tied to fundamental disruptions in these circuits," Dr. Silbersweig says. "Our hope is that such insights will help erode the stigma surrounding psychiatric illness."
The research could even help lead to better treatment.
As pointed out in the commentary, the research may help explain how specific biological or psychological therapies could ease symptoms of borderline personality disorder for some patients, by addressing the underlying biology of impulsivity in the context of overwhelming negative emotion. The more scientists understand the neurological aberrations that give rise to the disorder, the greater the hope for new, highly targeted drugs or other therapeutic interventions.
"Going forward, we plan to test hypotheses about changes in these brain regions associated with various types of treatment," Dr. Silberswieg says. "Such work by ourselves and others could help confirm these initial findings and point the way to better therapies."
Let's see, remediable physical brain malformation, behavior less controllable than legal theory postulates, punishments determined on free will and ability to self-govern . . . hmm, sounds like it might have a little to do with corrections sentencing, doesn't it?