Developmental psychopathology and neurobiology of aggression

Dev Psychopathol. 2005 Fall;17(4):1151-71. doi: 10.1017/s0954579405050546.


The aim of this paper is to clarify how neural mechanisms at the molecular level, specifically the serotonergic (5-HT) system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis system (HPA) in conjunction with early life stress may contribute to the emergence of aggression, self-directed and otherwise, in borderline personality disorder (BPD). Chronic dysregulation of these biological systems, which function to regulate stress and emotion, may potentiate the development of impulsive aggression in borderline personality conditions. Our central premise in this paper is that brain development, stress regulation, and early pathonomic experience are interactive and cumulative in their mutual influence on the development of impulsive aggression in BPD. We review the parameters of impulsive aggression in BPD, followed by a discussion of the neurobiological and neuroendocrine correlates of impulsive aggression with and without BPD. We then focus on the developmental continuities in BPD with attention to brain maturation of 5-HT and HPA axis function during the life span and the influence of early adverse experiences on these systems. Finally, we comment on the data of the relative stability of aggression in BPD, adolescence as a developmental stage of potential vulnerability, and the course of aggressive behavior during the life span.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aggression / physiology
  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / physiopathology
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology*
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Life Change Events
  • Parenting / psychology
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Concept
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Sexual Maturation / physiology
  • Social Environment


  • Serotonin