Dopamine dysfunction in borderline personality disorder: a hypothesis

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2004 Jun;29(6):1029-39. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300424.


Research on the biological basis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) has focused primarily on the serotonin model of impulsive aggression. However, there is evidence that dopamine (DA) dysfunction may also be associated with BPD. Pertinent research and review articles, identified by Medline searches of relevant topics, books, references from bibliographies, and conference proceedings from 1975 to 2003, were reviewed. Evidence of DA dysfunction in BPD derives from the efficacy of traditional and atypical antipsychotic agents in BPD, and from provocative challenges with amphetamine and methylphenidate of subjects with the disorder. In addition, human and animal studies indicate that DA activity plays an important role in emotion information processing, impulse control, and cognition. The results of this review suggest that DA dysfunction is associated with three dimensions of BPD, that is, emotional dysregulation, impulsivity, and cognitive-perceptual impairment. The main limitation of this hypothesis is that the evidence reviewed is circumstantial. There is no study that directly demonstrates DA dysfunction in BPD. In addition, the therapeutic effects of antipsychotic agents observed in BPD may be mediated by non-DA mechanisms of action. If the stated hypothesis is correct, DA dysfunction in BPD may result from genetic, developmental, or environmental factors directly affecting specific DA pathways. Alternatively, DA dysfunction in BPD may be a compensatory response to alterations in the primary neural systems that control emotion, impulse control, and cognition, and that are mediated by the brain's main neurotransmitters, glutamate, and GABA, or in one or more other neuromodulatory pathways such as serotonin, acetylcholine, and norepinephrine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Behavioral Symptoms / etiology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / drug therapy
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / metabolism*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Emotions / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Neural Networks, Computer
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism*


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Dopamine