Background: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a common psychiatric disorder that is often linked to early stressors. One particularly salient feature of the disorder is fear of abandonment. This pilot study was conducted to measure neural correlates of memories of abandonment in women with and without BPD.
Methods: Twenty women with a history of childhood sexual abuse underwent measurement of brain blood flow with positron emission tomography imaging while they listened to scripts describing neutral and personal abandonment events. Brain blood flow during exposure to abandonment and neutral scripts was compared among women with and without BPD.
Results: Memories of abandonment were associated with greater increases in blood flow in bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (middle frontal gyrus, Brodmann's areas 9 and 10) as well as right cuneus (area 19) in women with BPD than in women without BPD. Abandonment memories were associated with greater decreases in right anterior cingulate (areas 24 and 32) in women with BPD than in women without BPD.
Conclusions: These findings implicate dysfunction of dorsolateral and medial prefrontal cortex including anterior cingulate, left temporal cortex, and visual association cortex in memories of abandonment in women with BPD. These brain areas may mediate symptoms of BPD.