Frontolimbic brain abnormalities in patients with borderline personality disorder: a volumetric magnetic resonance imaging study

Biol Psychiatry. 2003 Jul 15;54(2):163-71. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3223(02)01743-2.


Background: Dual frontolimbic brain pathology has been suggested as a possible correlate of impulsivity and aggressive behavior. One previous study reported volume loss of the hippocampus and the amygdala in patients with borderline personality disorder. We measured limbic and prefrontal brain volumes to test the hypothesis that frontolimbic brain pathology might be associated with borderline personality disorder.

Methods: Eight unmedicated female patients with borderline personality disorder and eight matched healthy controls were studied. The volumes of the hippocampus, amygdala, and orbitofrontal, dorsolateral prefrontal, and anterior cingulate cortex were measured in the patients using magnetic resonance imaging volumetry and compared to those obtained in the controls.

Results: We found a significant reduction of hippocampal and amygdala volumes in borderline personality disorder. There was a significant 24% reduction of the left orbitofrontal and a 26% reduction of the right anterior cingulate cortex in borderline personality disorder. Only left orbitofrontal volumes correlated significantly with amygdala volumes.

Conclusions: While volume loss of a single brain structure like the hippocampus is quite an unspecific finding in neuropsychiatry, the patterns of volume loss of the amygdala, hippocampus, and left orbitofrontal and right anterior cingulate cortex might differentiate borderline personality disorder from other neuropsychiatric conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / pathology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / pathology
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / pathology